Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Way You Carry the Book
Now to the comment. A parishioner noted the way the book was carried and lifted up after the reading of the Gospel. This person watched for weeks on end after first noticing my practice. Finally, the person spoke to me about the practice. "The way you carry the book tells me what it is and how we relate to it..." He did not ask how or why but observed that my several comments in Bible study and sermons talking about the way we as Lutherans view the Scriptures were borne out in this practice. God's Word is not to us a history textbook or an encyclopedia of knowledge or a disciplinary book of rules but the life-giving Word of God, living and active, infallible and efficacious. This parishioner told me how this ritual of carrying the lectionary book with attention to what it is (God's Word) has become something to watch for -- week after week. This simple gesture is a visual affirmation of what we believe, teach, and confess. And that is the salutary purpose of ritual, ceremony, and religious gesture within the Divine Service. They give form to what we believe, teach, and confess.
Now to the result. This person has been talking to others in the pew about this. Now I notice that there are many eyes on me as I make my weekly walk from the lectern to the pulpit, carrying the lectionary book (BTW, if any of you know of a source of supply for a suitable Gospel book with grand metal cover that works with the LSB three year calendar and will not force me to take out a second mortgage, please let me know as I would love to carry this). Others have come to see that the truth we believe, teach, and confess takes visual form in the ceremonial of the mass or Divine Service.
I could speak of other ritual gestures that also give form to what we believe, teach, and confess. For now, this is enough to illustrate my point. It is not a matter of whether we like or dislike ritual. We confess something by its absence just as we confess something by its presence. The point is not to spiritualize what we do but to make sure what we do reflects what we believe. They flow together as parallel streams from the same source -- what we believe with out hearts, confess with our lips, and show forth in the church usages, rituals, and ceremonial gestures of the mass or Divine Service.
Polo shirt vestments, with none of the ordinary furniture of the chancel, without the pattern of the Divine Service (mass), absent the ritual and ceremonial that accompanies the form and text, speaks just as loudly against what it is that we believe, teach, and confess about the mass (Divine Service) as the faithful practices speak. But what do they say? Could it be that what they speak agitates against the confession that the Word of God is authoritative, infallible, and efficaciouis? That Christ is truly present, distributed, and received in the bread which this Word calls His body and the cup which this Word identifies as His blood? That the Pastor is acting not for himself but in persona Christi? That what happens in the Divine Service (mass) is the entrance of heavenly glory into this earthly domain as Christ comes as He has promised and bestows what He has to give?
The point is not necessarily "could" we do without all of this.... but "should" we? If how you do it speaks as clearly as what you say, then we need to pay attention not only to the text or content but to the context and practice... Something to think about...
BTW I looked but could not find a handy photo of a Lutheran carrying the Gospel book so I have made do with B16 doing the same thing...