Sunday, November 20, 2011
To have the Sacrament or not?
In the NT and the Church that follows it in time, the breading of the bread in the Sacramental meal was from the beginning the basis and nature of all of the worship services of Christians. The early Church did not know the distinction between a service of the Word (prayer and proclamation) but only the preaching that took place within the service of the meal.
Lutherans once knew and affirmed this. The Order of Morning Service without Communion as generations grew up knowing in The Lutheran Hymnal represents not only a disconnect with early Church practice but a foreign and alien identity for Lutheran confession and theology as well. In Lutheran theology and practice, the Service of the Word was provided for only if and when there were no communicants presenting themselves for the Table. It was not a plan but a back up if no communicants came for the Lord's Supper. Nevertheless, what was at best a back up became the ordinary service on Sunday morning for Lutherans for generations and generations and this had its effect on the piety of Lutherans as well. People's piety no longer flowed from or to the meal but because a piety of the Word almost exclusively and, in this way, did not distinguish itself much from the rest of Protestantism except the the belief in the Real Presence remained. The sad fact, however, is that this believe in the Real Presence because more theory than reality since the Supper had been reduced to a quarterly observance among many Lutherans in America.
The sad and deteriorating effect of this upon Lutheranism has been revealed in the recent movement toward contemporary Christian worship and music in which Word, Sermon, Song, and Prayer have become the new ecumenical liturgy borrowed from evangelicals and non-denominationals but something alien and foreign to the Lutheran theology and practice of the Confessions. When worship is primarily preaching and singing, there is no reason not to borrow forms and content from non-Lutherans if it is thought their forms and content works better than the Lutheran ones. It is only when worship is sacramental, when Word and song form part of the liturgy of the Meal and not separate and distinct services or forms in and other themselves, that such borrowed liturgies are exposed for what they are -- defective and deficient.
While much has been done among Lutherans to reclaim their heritage of Word and Table and to practice the Divine Service in its full form with the sacramental liturgy being truncated, the fact remains that for many Lutherans today -- even those who use the hymnal -- the Sacrament is an optional extra and not that which is essential to what could or should happen on Sunday morning. If statistics are correct, we have worked hard to restore the practice of the weekly Eucharist yet we have far to go in teaching and instilling a sacramental piety in the hearts, minds, and lives of Lutheran people.
For myself, if I am on vacation or away on Sunday morning, I will not attend a Lutheran church that does not offer the Sacrament of the Altar. My family is of the same mind. In fact, we have chosen to sit and watch others commune in parishes with good liturgy and faithful preaching which happen to be outside our communion fellowship instead of attending a congregation with which we were in fellowship but which did not offer the liturgy and the Sacrament on Sunday morning. It was when my children made this observation and insistence that I understood what it meant to teach and raise up people in which the Sacrament of the Altar is not optional to Sunday morning but essential to Lutheran piety and faith.