Wednesday, November 23, 2011


As with so many things in life, the liturgy flows...  It is not a disjointed connection of disparate parts but the flowing from one to another so that the whole is a seamless garment.  Though not technically part of the liturgy, the Confession and Absolution begins the flow by cleansing us from the sin, distance, and distraction that makes it impossible for us to turn our hearts and minds to the Lord.  Repentance flows to confession and flows from confession.  It is not a perfunctory thing we do.  From the entrance rite (Introit or Entrance Hymn, Kyrie, Gloria) to the Collect to the lessons, sermon and creed, there is a progression and a progressive unfolding or flow.  It is not a matter of starts and stops but of movement, like the water of a stream moves, twists, turns, flows over rocks and around them, several streams and then one... we come together before the Word of the Lord that is not only true but efficacious.  The Sacramental Service continues this flow to the apex of the movement with the Word coming to us in and with the bread and cup.  From there it is like a waterfall down, a quick and sudden movement to the end and out the door to do mercy's work in the world.

The good and wise presider will work to keep the liturgical flow going, without intruding or distracting from the unfolding of Confession to Word to Meal to Sending.  That is, I often think, the gift of presiding at the liturgy -- knowing when to speak and when to keep silent, what is needful to be said and what just happens and, well, flows.  Far from assisting this flow, the constant flow of announcements, explanations, and page numbers turns this flow into a faucet that is on and off, on and off, jerky and disconcerting.

The Psalmist also seems to see this in the passage of time (90 in Watt's wonderful paraphrase O God, Our Help in Ages Past).  So the rivers of Babylon and the heavenly city, Jerusalem on high, mark our thoughts and identity among the children of God.  Scripture unfolds and flows -- at least when seen through the lens of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Life ebbs and flows with God always the one who makes it flow and who directs the flow of our lives through the river of His grace, that we may finally reach the end where each of our own individual streams flow as one into the one river of God's gracious favor in Christ.  If we get this it is not hard to understand what it means to long, groan, and even impatiently anticipate this great and wonderful day.

As many have often said, this is why the organ has become the preferred instrument to support the congregational song.  Unlike the piano or wind instruments or just about any instrument, the pipe organ sustains the pitch with a seeming endless supply of air.  It breathes with us and thus helps us tune our breath to the song that is ours to sing.  A good organist knows this but I am not always sure how to explain or teach it.  People instinctively recognize this. The piano is a percussive instrument whose sound continues only by the pressing of the ivories.

For the liturgy and the Church, there seems to be an ontological priority that the sustained or continuous enjoys over the discrete, spontaneous, or sudden.  This is not accidental.  The unfolding of Church history is just that  -- a continuity that from time to time must be recovered but which is the essence of our life together as the people of God.  We receive from those who have gone before, the Scriptural sacred deposit or tradition.  We hand off to those who follow what we received.  We may carefully add to our expression of it (hymn, confession, etc.) but the content is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

I wonder if this is not why I prefer the fountain pen and its flow of ink on to the page -- the thoughts becoming words becoming lines on paper that turn into words and thoughts that can be passed on.  Printing is, in my mind, a poor substitute for cursive and it ends up being a devolution of lines and disconnected forms until, if you print much, you finally cannot read it at all.  It takes much longer for cursive to deteriorate.  For this reason, my sermon prep always includes the hand written first draft of the sermon by fountain pen -- and only then hits the computer for editing and change (which pen and paper do not do well).  As an aside, let me simply acknowledge that printing is less personal and easier to forge while cursive is more personal and more personally expressive.

On the other end of the spectrum is the typewriter and its successor in the word processor (computer).  This is communication using the mechanical agent of typing and a keyboard. The motion is purely percussive and can even border on violent.  The person is entirely hidden (save for font choice and the attempt to personalize what is, in essence, the least personal of all forms of communication).  The keyboard allows little in terms of disclosing the essence, personality, or individuality of the author.  This is why it is so difficult to determine original from copy, forgery from truth.

Just a few assorted thoughts from a meandering mind on a day when I have had some time to think...


Janis Williams said...

The blessing of the Liturgy for those of us from Evangelicalville is that we're not thinking: "What the heck is coming next?"

C.S. Lewis had it right. The flow and consistency of Liturgy allows us to focus on worship (or to focus on the One who comes to serve us), rather than on the minister/presider. Just like vestments, the Liturgy itself (when done well) hides the man, and gives us Christ Himself.

Anonymous said...

Besides, people aren't dumb. They can read and follow page numbers. No need to be a traffic cop pastor during the service. Just do it.