Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Historic Liturgy- A Tool for Missions? (Newsletter article for July)

From the Vicar,
Too often in our church body we have this mindset, spoken or unspoken, that we worship the way we do simply because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ We have this picture of ourselves that we are stodgy old Lutherans who don’t want to change, and therefore that is the only reason why our new hymnal has liturgies much the same as the old. My friends, if that is the reason we worship the way we do, then we are missing something. Furthermore, if we follow that line of reasoning, there is no reason why we should continue to worship in that way. I would even go so far as to say that this thought is the first step toward loosing the liturgy. We do not use the historic liturgy simply because it is historic, but because it preaches Christ.
To be sure, antiquity is one of the reasons we have kept the liturgy around, but not in a way you might expect. The service you find in our hymnals (what I will simply call ‘the liturgy’ in this article) has deep roots, roots which reach into the Old Testament. Its foundations are in the worship of the synagogue and the Passover liturgy. This was how Jesus worshipped, and it is how the early Christians worshipped. They took their Old Testament roots and brought in the gifts of Christ. This was very natural, for the gifts that Christ gives have Old Testament roots as well. The Service of the Word has its roots in the worship of the synagogue, while the Service of the Sacrament is rooted in the Passover liturgy. Each and every generation since has focused the liturgy around the two centers of Word and Sacrament. Some have added elements, and some have trimmed away unneeded additions, but throughout the focus has remained on the giving of Christ’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. Each generation has passed on to the next a liturgy that clearly proclaimed Christ and affirmed that He truly is present in our worship. The liturgy we have been given is truly a gift, a legacy that connects us with all who have gone before.
The liturgy has not become obsolete in the past forty years, after having served faithfully as a vehicle for Christ for nearly two thousand. It remains relevant because it proclaims Christ clearly, and Christ is always relevant. The proclamation of sin and salvation, man’s greatest need and God’s even greater Savior, needs to be heard by every person in every place, in every age. This message transforms people, it gives life to those who are dying and forgiveness to those under condemnation for their sin. Therefore, the liturgy, as it proclaims this message, transforms culture, not the other way around. A liturgy that is subject to the whims of culture cannot proclaim the life-changing Gospel clearly, for it has allowed itself to be changed by the world. Our worship is not bound by culture or subject to it, it is not ‘German’ or ‘American,’ it is biblical, transcending culture and time. It in fact creates its own culture, a way of life centered on the reality of Jesus Christ.
The liturgy is relevant because it acknowledges the fact that God incarnate, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is truly present in Word and Sacrament. The very same Body and Blood that was given and shed on the cross is given to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. The liturgy is relevant because it turns our focus away from ourselves, from the individualism that is so rampart today. Instead we receive God’s gifts in community, using a liturgy that connects us with Christians around the world and Christians throughout the centuries. The liturgy is not our unique possession, to do with it what we please, but instead it belongs to the entire Church. Therefore (and this is the greatest asset of what we have been given), the liturgy takes the focus off of ourselves and what we are doing for God, placing it squarely on Christ and what He is giving to us. That is the gift we have been given, a gift that proclaims Christ for us clearly.
Thinking of the liturgy in this way will involve a change of thinking, a change of mindset. Seeing the liturgy as an asset is most definitely thinking ‘outside the box,’ and it is a lonely road, because very few are looking at it in this way. But I would maintain that this is the first step toward becoming a ‘missional’ congregation. Once we see our liturgy as an asset to our proclamation of Christ, as a great gift that has been lovingly bestowed on us by the entire Christian Church, will we be motivated to bring others into contact with Christ’s gifts. Then our worship will be filled with reverence and beauty, joy and enthusiasm. I encourage you to learn more about why we worship the way we do (this article has barely scratched the surface). When we realize what a gift we have, how can we help but share it with others?
In Christ,
Vicar Maronde

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