Thursday, October 20, 2016
Getting what we deserve. . .
That is the temptation of Lutheran pastors but we are not alone. Every age and every group and every individual who has sought to reform or just tinker with the liturgy has faced the same enticement to treat the liturgy the way science treated the broken body of Col. Steve Austin in the old Bionic Man series. As good as our work may be, it lacks the one thing that the liturgy has -- the test of time and history. It has withstood the test of many eyes and many hands and proven its endurance.
"Our great danger is to throw away things that are excellent, which we do not understand, and replace them with mediocre forms which seem to us to be more meaningful and which in fact are only trite. I am very much afraid that when all the dust clears we will be left with no better than we deserve, a rather silly, flashy, seemingly up-to-date series of liturgical forms that have lost the dignity and the meaning of the old ones." Thomas Merton
The fruits of our many meddlings into the shape and text and melodies of worship are not good. We have lost any sense of liturgical unity -- note I am not saying uniformity. We do not all know the same words, the same ordo, or the same songs of the liturgy. Nowhere is this more apparent that when planning for large gatherings in our church body. We end up with a forced minimalism because we know that a certain number, perhaps even a significant number, of our people will be unfamiliar with the liturgy we choose. Because we really do not want to learn the liturgy or its setting at the same time we gather for larger events (think Synod Convention), we tend to hymn settings of the Divine Service instead of sung or chanted liturgy. We may even speak the entire service except for the hymns in an effort to get all of us on the same page.
Second, we have lost a connection to our own past, to the people of our past, and to our very identity as people walking together. Not your grandfather's church has come to mean the abandonment of the very things that once characterized what it meant to be Lutheran. So our creations tend to distance us or even cut us off from our ancestors who once confessed with us the same faith we claim today. This may not seem significant but when we continue this from one generation to another it effectively isolates us from each other and prevents more than a single generation from participating in the Sunday morning service. We already have enough division due to preference of time or "style" but to divide us according to age or generation imposes a division we need not create.
Third, we have failed to acknowledge that there will be those who come after us. We do not bequeath to them anything more than "well, this is what we did" and we leave them on their own to invent what has already existed and to develop outside of the tradition of faith and life what is our tradition. It would be as if we abandoned every ordinary thing of life and said to the generation to come "you figure it out." From creed to confession to liturgy, we almost require those who come after us to start from scratch and figure out what works for them without the benefit of any guidance from the past or any help from the present.
Finally, we must ask ourselves how much of our liturgical invention proceeds not from an enlightened sense of what worship is but just the opposite -- a poverty both of information and desire? Merton again: [Because they do not] understand the treasure they possess they throw it out to look for something else .... Let me given an analogy. An aunt of mine passed away and her house was a treasure trove of photos, newspaper articles, and family trinkets. However, when her sons got around to cleaning out her house, they tossed nearly everything. They did not see the significance of most of it, did not value much of it, and so they simply got rid of it. They were sure of one thing, if they did not see why to keep it, they were sure no future generations would see the value of those things either. Sadly, they were correct. If we do not see the value of these things, it is certain that those who come after us will not either.
From Robert Taft, S. J.:
For over a century now the Christian Churches, first of the West, then also of the East, have been preoccupied with liturgical renewal, under the influence of what is known as “The Liturgical Movement,” a worldwide effort dedicated to making Christian liturgy better. But good liturgy is liturgy that glorifies God and sanctifies those glorifying him, and that is his gift to us, not ours to him. For we can glorify God only by accepting the unmerited gift of sanctification he freely gives us. If it is God who does it, how could it be better? It could be better from our side, for we too have a part in the liturgy, which is neither magic nor unconscious. So God’s part would better achieve its aim if we would drink more fully from the saving waters he offers us in the liturgy via a participation that would be more active, more conscious, more communal.