Thursday, August 6, 2009
Remember Wonder Woman and her invisible plane? Or Harry Potter and his invisibility cloak? There are many of us who have wished to be invisible at one time or another (or at least the proverbial fly on the wall). But, Wonder Woman and Harry Potter are the stuff of dreams and books and it might seem so are the prospects of becoming invisible...
But, in many respects, that is exactly what the Pastor is called to be in the liturgy -- invisible. In contrast to the world where personality, feelings, tastes, style, and identity are center stage, the Pastor's personality, feelings, tastes, style, and individual identity should be hidden behind his vestments, behind the liturgy, and, most of all, behind the Word.
The Roman Catholic liturgical scholar Robert Hovda wrote a book on presiding which he entitled "Strong, Loving, and Wise," and another, Aidan Kavanagh, wrote "Elements of Rite." Lutheran Arthur Just wrote a very fine article on "Confident Presiding" for the 2008 Good Shepherd Institute. Both describe how it is possible for Pastors to melt into the background so that the focus is not on them as persons but on their role as presiders, on the liturgy they lead, and, most of all, on the Word they proclaim and the Sacrament they administer. I would urge you to check out what they have written. It is good stuff.
Without summarizing their words, let me apply it personally. The last thing people need to see and hear on Sunday mornings is Larry Peters. Okay, maybe not the last thing but I am pretty low on the list. It is not that I am evil personified, it is that I am not the center of the focus -- in this respect Pastors are the means to the means of grace. And the focus needs to be on the Means of Grace -- not on the means to the means.
If I preside well, I help people to focus beyond me to the Word I proclaim, to the content of the voice that speaks to them forgiveness, that joins their voices in the collect, that invites their praise in the ordinary (the unchangeable parts of the mass or Eucharistic liturgy), that applies the Gospel to their lives, that beckons them to confess the creed, that offers them the food which is Christ's body and blood, and that bids them them go into the world in Jesus' name.
If I preside poorly, I get in the way of this and people see Larry Peters at the prie dieu (kneeler) or at the pulpit, or at the altar. It is nice enough that Larry Peters forgives you but you gather in God's House to know that God has had mercy upon you and has forgiven you all your sins and now does so by using the voice of Larry Peters to deliver this heavenly gift. It is nice enough that Larry Peters has thoughts and opinions but you listen to the voice coming to you from the pulpit because it speaks Jesus Christ both in the Law that convicts our hearts and prepares us and in the Gospel that comforts those wounded and guilty hearts with forgiveness, hope, and life. It is nice enough to be entertained by Larry Peters (who, I confess, likes to be liked) but there is no redemption in entertainment -- only distraction -- so you have come not for a good show but to meet Jesus Christ where He has promised to be... where 2-3 are gathered in His Name -- and this means gathered around His Word and His Sacraments.
In other words, my goal on Sunday morning is to become as invisible as I can be so that Jesus Christ is clearly visible. I tell acolytes, assisting ministers, lectors, ushers, etc... that if you do your jobs well, no one will notice you... it is generally only when we screw up that we are noticed. That is true for Pastors as well. The vestments move the eye from the person to the Office of Pastor, the liturgy becomes the clothing that moves us all from attention on each other or our selves to Him who gives us grace and life. That is the way it should be. You who sit in the pews on Sunday morning know if that is the way it is. I pray you to help me become invisible that Christ may be clearly seen.
On the other hand, our goal in the world is not to be invisible but to be clearly seen... but that is for another post