Now, let's be clear: There's a difference between "messy" and "sloppy" liturgy. For the sake of this post, I'm defining "sloppy" liturgy as liturgy that is poorly written, unrehearsed, or otherwise lazy. It's what happens when we're not careful, when we don't plan. I'll throw out the first Sunday of Lent about three years ago as an example....I was attending a new Anglican church, meeting in a museum auditorium, and at the close of the service, they flashed up a powerpoint slide that had alleluias. I gasped, and the guy in front of me muttered something dismayed. His girlfriend or wife shushed him, noting (accurately) that Sundays are always feast days. But still- this was sloppy. It was unintended, inappropriate, and distracting. (Seriously. I've attended another Anglican church where they had a service to BURRY the alleluias at the start of Lent).
But things don't always go as planned. Sometimes a four yearold shouts "Yay!" at the end of the Gloria. Sometimes a priest topples off a stage in a museum auditorium . Sometimes an acolyte has stomach cramps and has to step out midservice. Palm Sunday comes once a year...leaving girls scrambling to finish palm crosses, and distribute them through a congregation before Mass starts. And we find ourselves in a pitchy, offkey rendition of "All Glory Laud and Honor" as we march through the parking lot and step in through the narthex to find the rest of the congregation singing a completely different verse. It's messy...but we live in the middle of mess. I'm pretty sure the crowds at the first Palm Sunday weren't perfectly in step with each other. Our liturgies, these events we celebrate in the life of Christ and the Church....they are real. Real in a historical sense, in which they happened, in a way that wasn't prewritten and rehearsed....and real, in an ongoing sense, in which we re-enact them, and take them into our lives. I find L'engle's notion of Kairos and Chronos is helpful here....that sense that we have chronos (wrist watch time- that encompasses history books and calendars) and kairos- (God's time- which holds everything present at once). Sometimes...it is the the trips and stumbles, the noisy child, that jerk us into kairos and out of our own neat and perfect expectations and plans.