This Sunday some friends of mine who are Muslims came to church to hear me preach and experience Christian worship. While I have heard a few sermons in a few different mosques I had never before had the honour of hosting Muslim friends in my home church and it gave me an interesting perspective on the service.
I haven’t yet had the chance to talk to my friends about what struck them in good and bad ways about their visit and I am looking forward to that conversation tomorrow. In the meantime, here are few of my reflections from my perspective as a host.
A lot of the things that it highlighted could apply to people who had never been to church before – things like how hard it is to find your way from the car park into the right door and along the corridor into church or how difficult it is to juggle a service book, a pewslip, an extra piece of paper with a Psalm and a hymn book.
But what really stood out for me was the way we use language and particularly the way we refer to God. We opened our service by saying ‘When the Lord comes… ‘ meaning Jesus but then in our first reading from Isaiah we have a speaker who was ‘anointed by the Lord’ and we mean God of the Hebrew Bible. How can you know that if you are not familiar with the context?
So when we say in Church: “The Lord be with you” are we talking about God the Father, or Jesus or can Lord cover all three persons of the Trinity? It may not matter to us but for someone of a different faith it might well influence the degree to which they can assent and participate in a service.
To be honest, ‘Lord’ is not my favourite word. It is clearly male and carries with it a whole load of feudal and patriarchal baggage, but because I am so used to it doesn’t usually trip me up in worship like it did this week.
After the service I spent a bit of time looking at the history of the word LORD as it appears in the Old Testament and all the explanations I could find were about the Jewish community avoiding the holy name of YHWH and introducing the term Adonai which was translated as Lord.
However when I worshipped recently at progressive synagoge they didn’t use the word Lord at all – instead the phrase Eternal One was given to describe God in the Hebrew Bible.
I found this phrase really liberating in its openess and its otherness. Now I can see too that it carries a clarity lost in our translation of LORD or Lord.
Our worship now takes place in a multi-faith context whether there are Muslims in the room or not. Our worship takes place in a context of feminism where we now have at last women (Lord) Bishops. And we live in a context where feudalism has left a nasty after-taste. Just yesterday, somebody told me a story of his grandfather who worked for a ‘Lord’ and had a pretty tough time.
I wonder if we could get a little more creative in our language and perhaps learn again from our Jewish brothers and sisters to talk about God in an accessible and clear way.