Because of certain circumstances, some unusual and some not, the past week I have presided at more Eucharists in this parish than I did in the first two months here as Pastor. Then the Eucharist was celebrated every other week and now it is at both services on Sunday and at least one weekday. Because of a circuit winkel, for example, the number can increase.
According to the Catechism and even looking historically, Lutherans have a sacramental piety. The place of baptism has been and is central to Lutheran piety (not that Lutheran piety is particularly distinctive but speaking here more as a reflection of what we see in Lutheran practice). The place of private confession, flowing from this baptismal center and as a manifestation of our daily repentance, is also classically Lutheran piety (even if it is not yet a fully integrated practice in the average Lutheran parish). No one would deny that Lutherans were people of the Word but this was not because of a personal and individual understanding of Bible interpretation. Rather, the Scriptures were central to Lutheran piety because the Bible is the book of faith, the Church's book, from which flows the catechetical life of instruction and the Service of the Word in the Divine Service. This might not be as true today with the overarching emphasis on personal Biblical interpretation that strongly influences even Lutheran piety but it is still fair to say that we are people of the Word because that Word is efficacious and not simply true -- it does what it promises and accomplishes what it proclaims. Even when the frequency of Holy Communion was less, Lutheran piety toward the Sacrament was strong. Now, with the fruits of liturgical and confessional renewal, the practice of the Eucharist is catching up with the theology of the Sacrament.
My point is that a week such as this one, with many Eucharists and many communicants in many settings, I am able to see how different this sacramental piety is from the piety of mainline Protestants and from evangelicals. This is a Lutheran distinctive that we need to foster and encourage. Our piety is not rooted in an individual spiritual quest for the other (as some Christians and other religious speak today). Our piety is not shaped by the focus of meditation on things external or internal (as we have seen in the mixing of Eastern forms of religious expression with Christian ideas added). Our piety is not reflected by behavioral change like we might see among the Amish (in extreme) or others whose outward dress and lifestyle is distinctively different from the norm of culture. Our piety flows from who we are and what is done in the Divine Service. It is this Sunday morning experience that flows throughout the rest of the week to shape and form us by extending to us what we have met there in the Christ who comes to us through His Word and Sacraments.
Although I have been talking about this for a long time, when suddenly you preside at a half dozen Eucharists in one week, it becomes very clear that the Word proclaimed there and the Sacrament received there are not simply an intellectual foundation of Lutheranism, but the practical expression of our piety and life together. This is what pervades the Lutheran Confessions and the Catechism in particular. This is what we read and sing in the hymns of the great Lutheran authors (sixteenth century to modern day). This is who we are and how the faith born in baptism, equipped by the Spirit to hear the Divine Word of Scripture and this Divine Word speak in absolution, is fed and nourished in the common table of uncommon grace that is the Sacrament of the Altar.
Last evening the choirs of several churches sang in a concert designed to raise funds for the local Pastoral Counseling Center (of which I have been associated for more than 12 years). As the various church choirs got up to sing, including the one from my own parish, I saw this difference expressed in profound subtlety. The choir from my parish sang anthems from the Divine Service -- song formed for use in the Divine Service and appointed to fit the lectionary. I knew instinctively what Sundays on which these anthems had been sung and the vocal quality of the performance emphasized the choir -- not soloists -- and the Word (text) not the aesthetic of the sound. It was not simply that this choir was as good as or better than the others but distinctively different. In the music chosen and the character of the performance, I could have closed my eyes and in a moment I was there in the Divine Service -- something which could not have been said about the other choirs or the anthems they performed for this concert setting.
This week was a crystal clear look at the distinctive of Lutheran piety that we work so hard to speak about, proclaim, and nurture as Lutheran Pastors in a Lutheran parish. Both the many opportunities to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord and the conversation with the choir after the concert indicated that I think this picture of our piety is gaining ground. T/hanks be to God!