Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Walking Together

A few days ago, I attended a conference at Redeemer in Fort Wayne. For those of you who don't know of it, Redeemer has the reputation of being one of the most "high liturgical" churches in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Some aspects of the level of ceremony would throw your average liturgical Lutheran into a tailspin. I love it, but know that this is Redeemer. It would somehow not fit in my congregation and probably not yours, either. But Redeemer is there, letting all of us know that yes, this is beautifully Lutheranism as well.

At some point in the service, sitting in the chapel, I looked around. Most of the people there were pastors from various congregations. It was so crowded (close to 50) that we were fitting four of us on a corner pew that was probably meant to seat 2 comfortably (and I am more woman than many) and we were sitting 4, including my daughter on my lap. Because of this, Chris and I didn't even bother opening our hymnal for the liturgy and I was wonderfully surprised that my six year old didn't seem to have much problem either. I love reciting the liturgy from memory...I flub a word here or there occasionally, but it allows me to concentrate on what I am saying. When I am reading off of a page, it can go through my eyes and to my lips without my really ever thinking about what I am saying.

Anyway, staring at the hymnal, I began thinking. I am in a room with people representing at least twelve Lutheran congregations. We don't all use the same hymnal, and as much as I believe the new hymnal is wonderful, the fact that we aren't all looking at a burgundy cover every Sunday isn't THAT important. For the most part, the liturgy is the same, with the exception of some thees and thous. The reality of how unified we are in practice became very powerful, despite the fact that some were genuflecting or other observations you wouldn't find in every Lutheran congregation. I could be in that service and know completely what is going on and fully respond because we were all saying the same words that I say in my own congregation, in every congregation I have ever been a member of. There was no feeling completely out of my element while I figured out what I was supposed to do.

Going back a year to when my husband and I attended an installation of a friend down south, where they use blended worship, it was COMPLETELY different. There was no way I could've sat there and appreciated all of this because I was too busy scrutinizing the changeable music and the confession of faith that applied to THIS week in order to even deduce that we were of a common faith, even though there was the LCMS symbol on the sign outside.

Thinking about that grieved me in realizing how many people aren't aware of how precious a gift our liturgy is. It feeds us with God's Word, it focuses us on Word and Sacrament, and it unites us all in common practice not only in location, but in time since the liturgy is historic and has come to us from the Early Church. No wonder Satan works so hard to convince us to be bored with it or to disdain it.


Joy said...

Bingo! When my grandmoher was near death and suffering terribly wth Alzheimer's, she didn't even know my name. She couldn't pick out a matching pair of shoes, or go for a short walk without getting lost. But she knew her liturgy, prayers, and creeds forward and backward. Someday, those ancient yet deathless words of Mary, Simeon, Isaiah, David, and all the saints along with Christ's own words may well be the only evidence of my faith. What peace for me and those I leave behind!

BTW, I too make a point to recite the liturgy and creeds from heart, because if I read it I tend to bypass my brain.

Ethan, Zach, and Emma's Mom said...

Amen! That is right on the money. We just had an expert at our PTL saying that the liturgy is INTREGAL (sp?) for children's participation in church. They need repetition to learn it completely. Our Lutheran liturgy is beautiful, and I wish more churches would appreciate it for what it is. Especially Matins, my favorite!

Designated Knitter said...

Amen! That's the reason we say that we "know it by heart."

Designated Knitter said...

Oh! And I would add that this is the reason that years ago, when worshiping in a Lutheran Church in Finland (a state church to be sure, but they used the liturgy) that while I didn't understand the language, I could figure out where we were in the service. I could see the bones - the trinitarian invocation let me pick out the words that would reappear in the Gloria, and the Kyrie, and absolution....There were even hymns that I knew well enough in English to participate.

Elephantschild said...

DK, I had the same experience at a state church in Germany. I don't know enough German to understand what's spoken to me, but I could follow that service. Amen!

David said...

hey lora,
stumbled across your blog from facebook. LOVE the title of it! i've been thinking about that last paragraph, and i respectfully disagree with what you wrote, but hopefully not what you meant.

i believe that you and i are united, but the liturgy does not unite us. even tomorrow when i'm chanting, and you're in worship, and we are separated by 2000 miles - we will be united - but it will not be by the liturgy (even if it happens to be the same - we don't have maroon covers either).

When you and I were Baptized in Christ, God united us with Himself and with each other. There is MUCH precedent for this in God's Word. There is no precedent for us being united by liturgy in God's Word.

I get concerned when good intentioned folks wrongly focus on the liturgy instead of the Christ that the liturgy is intended to focus us upon. Our fallen nature is so corrupt that we so easily can turn the best of things into idols.

Tomorrow may we both not focus upon the Kyrie, but upon the One to Whom we cry, "Lord, have mercy!"

Does that make sense?

Smiling Hawk (aka David)

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

David my friend, I am so glad to hear from you!!!!

No, I understand what you mean. I am not Orthodox or Catholic, believing in revelation through tradition or through grace through the performance of ceremonies. I do not believe the Liturgy is a sacrament, or that the Holy Spirit works through the Liturgy other than through the Biblical words that it contains. But because it pours forth Scripture, and points to Holy Communion and my baptism from the very moment of invocation, I do believe that He does work through it.

We are unified in the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ, through the Means of Grace. The unity that I talk about is unity of practice. And while that is not the same, though, I do believe that it is very important.

Knowing that the liturgy has developed through history for the purpose of confessing the faith and feeding God's flock does enrich the faith and emphasizes the Communion of the Saints. Knowing that I am worshiping using the same liturgy I used as a child, the same liturgy that Luther used, to a great extent, and a very similar liturgy that was used in the 2nd century is important.

Rituals do unify. I am a stronger American knowing my history, knowing the Constitution, knowing the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. Every opportunity that I have to say the Pledge of Allegiance and Sing the National Anthem reminds me of those things and builds my identity. I remember standing in Dodger Stadium the day the baseball parks reopened, singing the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America with 56,000 other people, and over a million in other stadiums that day, not to mention the people in their living rooms was an incredibly uniting experience. A strengthening and comforting experience. These things do not make me an American, but an American does these things and finds enrichment through them and the fact I do this with other Americans creates a bond.

The liturgy provides that so much more every day that I am blessed with hearing it and being fed by it because it is full of God's Word and the Holy Spirit works through God's Word. God serves me through the Divine Service. That is what Divine Service means - God serving me - God serving my neighbor. That is uniting. That is comforting. That is strengthening. The liturgy does not make me a Christian, but it does serve to remind me that I am one, and it strengthens me in that. And when I am crying "Lord have Mercy" it is not that I am "doing the Kyrie" but that my faith takes hold of the fact that Christ does indeed have mercy. Amen.