Discovering and Escaping Liturgy
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.”