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Discovering and Escaping Liturgy

April 18th, 2009
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As I was driving with my family to our church for one of the Holy Week services, I was struck with the thought that I really do feel sorry for Christians who attend a church that does does not follow the Church Year. Why? Because the Church Year is such a remarkably good and useful teaching tool, a way for us to organize our time and our thoughts around all the major events in the life of Christ, “salvation history” as some might say: both the Church’s and our own personal and individual salvation as part of the body of Christ. Plus imagine being a pastor with no lectionary to help shape and guide our thinking and preaching. The Church Year is such a blessing. The older I get, the more I realize how much we “cradle Lutherans” take for granted about the unique aspects of our Lutheran church life. The Church Year is one of those things. So is the liturgy. Across Christendom, there are ongoing tensions, debates and so forth over worship practices. I find it instructive to read the thinking and reflection of folks from non-liturgical churches. It is interesting that just as some in my church are heading away from the liturgy, we are passing folks on the highway who are headed toward it, with great interest and joy. Here are a couple pieces I’ve found recently on the liturgy that I found helpful. Maybe you will too.

An interesting read, for those of us in church bodies experiencing tension when it comes to traditional v. contemporary worship trends. Are there ways to transcend the traditional v. contemporary debates? Can we find a way to be deeply liturgical without seeming to be ossified? Here is a clip:

“I was suddenly made aware of the myriad ways the church has worshiped throughout history, and I decided to experiment with some of these forms in the young adult ministry I led. It sounds cliché now, but we started by darkening the room and lighting candles and incense. We began singing some hymns and the Doxology. We also recited readings and prayers from The Book of Common Prayer. One of the elders at the church was concerned. He asked me, “Are you going Roman Catholic on us?” The older generation may have been confused, but the younger adults found the changes refreshing. All they had known in church was pop bands and video screens. The introduction of ancient practices helped them feel grounded and rooted to something bigger than themselves. Then I spoke at a conference about our rediscovery of liturgy and tradition. The room was packed—by that time liturgy had become a very hot topic. During my presentation, a leader raised his hand and commented in a very disappointed tone. “I don’t understand,” he said. “You’re telling us that young adults are drawn to liturgy and ancient worship forms, but I serve at a liturgical church and our young people want to get away from liturgy and traditions. They think it’s boring. I came to this conference to learn new ideas from contemporary churches. I want to move forward, not back.” I realized that worship trends among the young were complicated. Those raised in contemporary churches found practicing liturgy and following the church calendar refreshing and meaningful. But some who had grown up in traditional and liturgical churches saw these same practices as lifeless or routine. They were eager to incorporate more contemporary forms. One group wanted to rediscover the past, and the other was trying to escape it.”

And here’s another blog post I came across that I found interesting:

“Liturgy is gaining popularity again. It has wide appeal to emergent communities because it seems to make the sacred accessable, and hearkens back to a time where the church seemed to be more…pure…authentic. Whether this is a passing trend remains to be seen. I hope it isn’t! Liturgy has much to offer, and I continue to grow in my appreciation of it. First, liturgy helps us to keep the facts of faith from becoming muddled. The Apostles and Nicene creeds and hymns like the Nunc Dimmitis and Magnificat witness to a message that doesn’t change with history and trends. Whereas the speed of life seems to narrow our focus to the tyranny of the so-called urgent, what liturgy points to remains unchanged and becomes a vital source for touching the eyes of our hearts and restoring our sight. Second, liturgy is pedagogy: a repeated reenactment of the redemption story. In this reenactment we are doing more than going through the motions of some kind of divine skit. Redemption happens. Through confession and absolution, scripture readings, the preaching of God’s word, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper God meets us with his gifts of forgiveness and strength to live our faith. Spiritual amnesia comes easily. The repeated reminder of our need for grace and forgiveness is vital for us to remain what Luther called “pure receivers”. Without this, we so easily drift out of the arena of God’s favor. In a word, liturgy keeps me humble. It doesn’t leave room for the cancer of self-effort.”

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  1. April 18th, 2009 at 14:12 | #1

    It is too bad that we Lutherans, who have the best and not the worst of both the Evangelical and Catholic worlds, are missing out on the opportunity to be exactly what many people want – how often does that happen! But that would be the glory road. Still, we need to know why we do the things we do. When the liturgy fell out of popular favor, those who desired to keep the historic divine service were ill-equipped to fight. In many places the only argument for keeping it was "We've always done it that way". That's not good enough and was easily shot down. They were never taught the divine liturgy – I know I wasn't. It's a matter of catechesis. Once you know what is going on, then you can appreciate, defend it, and more imporantly promote it in a positive way as the jewel it is. All we have to do is teach it. If we don't we are stuck with two choices blind traditionalism and mindless and ever changing fads.

  2. Micah Schmidt
    April 18th, 2009 at 16:34 | #2

    I just finished reading LW 53 on Liturgy and hymns. What I find fascinating is this:
    1)Luther kept the chants of the RC church, when he felt they were singable for the congregation
    2)Luther wrote new chants in the style of the chants of the RC's
    3)Luther also wrote new hymn tunes in the style of the folk music of his day
    4)Luther was most concerned with the text- not only to be doctrinally "kosher" but to teach the faith
    5)Luther wrote new texts based on older ones ("In Peace and Joy"/Nunc Dimittis, etc) in order to teach the faith

    Could this be a model for the church today? Should we sing hymn tunes which are still very much popular (A Mighty Fortress, etc) but also write new tunes for timeless texts in the style of the folk music of our day? What about arranging hymn tunes in order to update the musical language, as Bach and others did? There are many great texts in our hymnal whose tunes simply don't "work" for parishioners today.

    I guess my main concern is that there are two LCMS's today. As Michael Berg pointed out, traditionalists don't understand worship and music, practically ignoring the "contemporary" mvmt. Modernists, on the other hand, don't understand worship and music, practically ignoring the traditional "non-movement". There needs to be a dialogue. One possible "solution" is for the church to offer the music people want with the text (Scripture) people need. May God grant us the grace, knowledge, and wisdom to bring unity and Christ to His people.

    • Sven Wagschal
      April 18th, 2009 at 18:50 | #3

      When Luther wrote his “German Mass” 1525, he not only translated the chants he felt were not against the word of God to German, he was also well aware that the tunes used in the RC mass were “optimized” for the Latin language. They would not be appropriate for German. So he developed new tunes with which the words of the German chants could naturally flow. That way he presented a worship that was really translated from Latin into German in all aspects.

  3. PaulW
    April 19th, 2009 at 01:34 | #4

    Just to be sure, are we talking about this blog post in "Sacred Ground Music"? http://sacredgroundmusic.wordpress.com/2008/11/12

  4. Mike Baker
    April 19th, 2009 at 09:52 | #5

    1. Another fantastic gift from the liturgy is this: Since the liturgy reenacts the redemption story, delivers whole texts of Scripture, and repeats the Creed; a liturgical service ensures that God's Word is still delivered even when the preacher fails in his duty to preach properly. I have been to many liturgical services where the liturgy salavaged an otherwise rotten service. When you don't even have the liturgy there is no such safety net.

    2. Cradle Lutherans are very fortunate and often take for granted the valuable lessons of their life experience… new converts to Lutheranism suffer from the same problem.

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