I’m spending the next four days at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as part of the Taize Pilgrimage of Trust. I’m joined here by 3 others from my church along with thousands of Christian pilgrims 18-35 from around the world as well as the brothers from the Taize Monastic Community in Burgundy, France.
The Taize Community was started by Brother Roger Schultz, himself a Swiss Reformed Protestant, in 1940 as an ecumenical monastery that would in its life together embody peace and reconciliation in postwar Europe.
What started as a small band of brothers from Catholic and Protestant denominations quickly grew to attract over 100,000 ‘pilgrims’ every year for a week at time. These pilgrims come from all over the globe, are primarily youth and young adults and for 7 days seamlessly integrate into the community’s weekly rhythm of fixed hour prayer (worship), bible study, and work.
As I tell people, think ‘Woodstock crossed with a Medieval Monastery.’
Every year the brothers of Taize take their community on the road in order to reconnect with former pilgrims and welcome others who might not be able to make the trek to rural France.
I’ve been to Taize a couple times in the past. The following are my journal reflections from my first pilgrimage.
Incarnating the Gospel: You are the Sermon
For years I studied preaching. ‘Homiletics’ is the official discipline, part theology of preaching and part the art of rhetoric. As a Protestant pastor, my bread and butter is the preached Word- that’s our tradition, our reason to be as Protestants. Many more people call me ‘preacher’ than call me ‘Father’ or anything like that.
And I like to preach. I enjoy the spiritual discipline of having to contend with a text every week, to dare God to speak or not speak to me and, ultimately, through me. Likewise, preaching is how I’ve learned to establish and build credibility with congregants. When I looked impossibly young to be a pastor at the very least my preaching reassured skeptics that I might know how to do a few things reasonably well.
And so it’s strange to me to worship in a place like Taize.
Here, we worship 3 times a day, between 45-90 minutes each time, every day of the week. Most of the worship is singing the short, repetitive, beautiful chants Taize for which Taize is now famous. The worship includes a scripture reading, usually in several different languages and then silence. Long periods of silence. Where my own congregants can hardly cease rustling their bulletins long enough to achieve silence, here at Taize the silence- of 5K plus pilgrims sitting on a cement floor, mind you-can last anywhere from 10-15 minutes. In the mornings, there’s Eucharist that is celebrated in a boldly ecumenical fashion and evening worship on Fridays and Saturdays mimics Good Friday and Easter.
But there’s no preaching. No sermon. Really hardly any spoken word at all- the songs are indicated not by announcement but LED signs on the left and right of the simple but beautiful sanctuary.
At the beginning of this week I thought this lack of preaching was surely a deficiency. ‘Doesn’t there need to be sermon?’ the Protestant on my shoulder kept asking. ‘Doesn’t the Word need to be proclaimed’ the Calvinist in me kept wondering; preaching is part of Calvin’s definition of worship in fact.
Now that it’s been a week here however I’ve changed my mind.
I now realize the silence is sufficient because the life of the community is its own witness to the Word.
The brothers and pilgrims here spend every moment together, studying scripture, sharing their stories, working together, eating together, worshipping and relaxing together.
In most churches, you need the sermon in order to ‘illustrate’ how to ‘apply’ the biblical text to every day life. And in most churches the starting presumption is that the connection between biblical text and every day life is forced at best.
But here at Taize it’s the opposite. It works in reverse. Their life together points to the truth of the biblical text. Acts chapter 2, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s Fruits of the Spirit- they’re all on display here both in the brother’s life together and in the hospitable, trusting way they welcome visitors in to that life.
They don’t need a sermon here. They are the sermon.
Together they’re- we’re- incarnating the Gospel in its essence: serving, sharing and worshipping. This is Church, or at least Church stripped of all the unessential, non-Gospel accretions that weigh many congregations down and fog the essence of what a life lived together in Christ looks like.
The word ‘incarnational’ gets bandied about a lot lately in its relation to the emerging future church. While I’m sure that term can mean many things to many people, I think the closest approximation is right here.
If incarnational is the buzzword of the emerging church and ‘intentional community’ its manifestation, then the Church of the future started in 1940 when Brother Roger rode his bicycle to this tiny little village.