Friday, January 10, 2014
The Gift of Evening Prayer. . .
Vespers is what I grew up with and it is a fine choral service of the evening hour. I like it. It is home to me even though it has been a very long time since we have sung it regularly in my parish. But Evening Prayer was truly a gift to Lutheranism and to this particular Lutheran. I was mesmerized by Evening Prayer the first time I sang it. It goes back to 1978 when LBW was being introduced (I am old; I was there). It was a liturgy that was completely new to me and yet seemed to be as old as time. That first Evening Prayer I encountered was simply done, without the extra Psalm and with words that barely qualify as a sermon, but it was stunning. With limited resources, the Paschal Candle was reconfigured into the great light that ushers in that Service of Light. It had me from the get go.
Evening Prayer can be both elaborate and simple. I have seen it done wonderfully with the full resources of choir and instruments, mounds of incense, and hundreds of voices. I have begun the Service of Light in utter darkness with hand candles spreading the light as the building was aglow with the flickers of hundreds of candles. I have done Evening Prayer in the makeshift setting of a motel conference room without any of the usual furniture and under the blaze of cruel fluorescent lighting. It is always good.
It is best, I think, here at Grace. This is not due to my gifts as leader or preacher but to the wonderful blessing of the Evening Prayer liturgy itself. We dim the lights so that the Service of Light can be set where it should be, in shadows. We follow the order directly from the hymnal. The first Psalm is sung as incense strings its smoke and smell toward the ceiling (symbolizing the prayers of God's people). The second Psalm is simply done using the Psalm tones of LSB. The lesson and sermon are catechetical, designed to teach the basics of the faith through the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. The refrain of the Magnificat is sung by all but its text by a single female voice. At the end our tradition is to borrow from Compline its antiphon (Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace) and then to sing the Nunc Dimittis from the Quinn paraphrase (LSB 937) followed by the antiphon (then in near total darkness).
Of course we have some who sniff and cough at the barest whiff of incense (hidden behind the altar a good 50 feet away from anyone but me and my acolyte) and we have some who don't like singing so much ("Why couldn't we just speak the prayers?") and there are those who no longer drive at night or too busy on a Wednesday for Evening Prayer. There is always something. But it all seems to fade away when the first intonation (Jesus Christ is the Light of the World) and we sing the Phos Hilaron and I chant the Thanksgiving for Light.
There are a lot of things wrong with worship we might put at the door of the ILCW and the process that gave birth to LBW and LW but I tend for forgive and forget when, lost in the shadows, Evening Prayer begins again. . .