Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Yesterday's abnormal becomes today's routine...
We could spend a week exploring the dimensions of this truth in culture. I want to point us for a few moments in how this relates to liturgy. When Sunday morning becomes a surprise, when the music of the liturgy or the liturgy itself is unpredictable, this abnormal circumstance gives birth to a new normality which begins where the abnormal leaves off. This is so common sense and such ordinary truth that it might be shocking to some of you. But this truth is one we need to take very seriously.
At some point in Lutheran history, the abnormal circumstance of a non-communion Sunday morning became the norm for Lutheranism. When I grew up, morning worship was usually without Holy Communion. It was the unusual aberration for the Order of Morning Worship to include Holy Communion. At first it was a quarterly exception and later a monthly one. This abnormal circumstance bears no resemblance to what Lutherans said about worship in their Confessions and it was the odd exception to the practice of Lutheranism for at least the first hundred years or more. The aberration that became the norm did not happen overnight. But it began when the abnormal became acceptable as the norm or ordinary for the life of the Church. In many respects, Lutheran have spent the last several hundred years trying to recover what was lost when the exception became the rule. It is still a work in progress and the recovery of our former identity is not without its own threat.
The liturgical movement bore some good fruit for Lutherans. Part of this good fruit has been the move toward more frequent communion. But the process has been long and slow and not without its setbacks. Yet the whole contemporary worship movement in Lutheranism threatens to return us to a normal understanding of Sunday morning with sermon but no Sacrament, with a worship outline but no real liturgy, and with a rich musical tradition but one that bears little resemblance to the great hymnoday of the past.
Yesterday's abnormal is always waiting in the wings to become the norm or routine for the present moment. This is not merely a matter of exchanging one thing for another but threatens us in an even more menacing way by lowering the shock value of our loss of what was. The reign of the casual attitude, dress, and attention to what happens on Sunday morning has left us vulnerable to even more shocking and destructive things than a failure to acknowledge the presence of God among us through the means of grace, a less than formal manner of dress, and a desire to make us the center of all that we call worship. Like the dulling of our senses to what is morally shocking, we have grown so accustomed to the odd and weird that we expect to be surprised, shocked, and are even disappointed when it does not happen.
Such is the reason why some Christians move from church to church. Searching for what is new, relevant, unusual, and even exceptional (dare I say weird), they are Presbyterians one Sunday, Lutherans the next, Methodists later, and non-denominationals by the end of the month. We have grown so accustomed to the shock and surprise of what is new and different and we have worshiped for so long at the altar of the trite, the trivial, and the banal, that we have little patience for the routine or predictable. We have turned what is new and different and exciting into an idol -- an idol even more destructive and deadly than when the one the Israelites raised up in the form of golden calf.
So what then shall we do? One of the first things we must do is to stop our heedless and senseless slavery to the new and the novel. What keeps Wal-Mart on top is not what keeps the Church on top. Wal-Mart may have to invent new products to get us to keep coming back to the same old warehouse stores but it is the predictable presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament delivering to us the promised gifts which are the fruits of His all sufficient suffering and His life-giving death and His victorious resurrection that keep us coming back on Sunday morning. Replace this with something new and different and we will find ourselves moving further and further away from that which is true and can bestow upon us what it promises.