Spring is on the way. The thrush has been singing its heart out at least an hour before sunrise each day! The wood is full of snowdrops and aconites abound by the stream and in sheltered parts of the grounds and the buds of the magnolia are fattening out. One would be very insensitive not to be aware of the quickening of life around one at such a time.
To a person who has always lived in the inner city this must seem like paradise! Indeed it is a great support to have a beautiful environment around one with colour, sound and a relative peace. But to other people the silence and nature around one in the countryside would be a real deprivation of interaction with people and the life of the city which goes on 365 days a year almost without stopping!
Christianity has always had to accomodate itself to people living in such divers environments, right from the beginning. It was quite different to be a part of a Christian community in Jerusalem in the early days or in Antioch or in Rome later on. It was inevitable that much of the civic life of the Roman city should be mirrored in the developing life of the church from the third century on. The external ceremonies of the church of the early and middle ages came from this interaction with secular life.
It is in the light of this knowledge and much more detailed evidence of early developments in worship that there have been changes in worship in the Western churches in recent years. In fact, Christian worship is very simple in its aim. It is the focal point of the local Christian community's response to God at the call of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a response of commitment of life in whatever environment life has to be lived. The recovery of this kernel of understanding should help us to be aware that the externals of Christian worship are very relative to the main thrust of Christian response to God, here in the place where I live and work. We may appreciate the beauty of our environment or the beauty of worship but it is the actual life lived in Christ that counts in the end.
What we know of Jesus from the gospels bears this out. He was not unaware of the beauty around him both in nature and in the people whom he met but whenever he called a person to follow with him he expected an immediate and unequivocal response. Just so there is an urgency about Christian faith and worship which overides all other considerations.