Saturday, December 18, 2010

Liturgy and Piety and Faith

                                                                                       I presided at a wedding recently.  The groom was the Vice-President of my parish and his bride was from Britain.  At this writing, the marriage of Britannia and Tennessee seems to be doing well, thank you.

Being rather an Anglophile, I most enjoyed my conversation with her extended family.  I inquired about a number of things -- from favorite BBC television shows to the wonderful Day of Remembrances and performances at Royal Albert Hall.  It was so wonderful to speak with folks who had been there -- alas, it is my fortune only to have been then through the interest and streaming video.

I asked if they listened to Choral Evensong on the BBC Radio 3 Wednesdays and Sundays at 4 (their time).  It was very interesting to see to the bride's grandmother perk right up and tell me how important this choral service is to her.  "I sing along," she said, "as I listen."  "So do I," I confessed.  Here we were a half a world apart and yet joined as we listened to Choral Evensong, singing the hymns, repeating the creed, and praying the prayers of an office at one and the same time foreign to our modern world and yet so familiar to our faith.

There are those who would suggest that the liturgy is a formalistic expression of the faith, somewhat at odds with a vibrant and spiritual piety.  Sadly, the pietists have made great strides in undermining the role and importance of the liturgy in our Lutheran piety and in sustaining our Lutheran faith through the changes and chances of this mortal life.  I think they are wrong.  Liturgy is not some aesthetic beauty but prayed doctrine and faith.  Even Choral Evensong on the BBC Radio 3 is a tie, a connection, a lifeline between the home and the Church.  As this woman listened, sang, and prayed at home as the radio carried the sound of the cathedral, choir, and clergy into her home, her faith was stirred, strengthened, and sustained.  The liturgy is not antithetic to an authentic and living faith -- it is a powerful tool to maintain and sustain such an authentic and lively faith while the world and the sinful flesh constantly work to pull us away from the Lord.

It is not hard to see that the numbers of folks in Church on a given Sunday is a smaller percentage of the population of Great Britain than it is Tennessee in the USA.  Yet, it is often hard for us to see how such things as a tradition of Choral Evensong works to maintain the identity of the faith even in a culture largely secular and thoroughly diverse in religion and outlook.  I was struck by how this woman warmly spoke of her own personal connection to her church and to her faith as being nurtured as the liturgy of the cathedral became the prayer office of her home and heart.  While I would never suggest that such replaces the personal attendance at Morning Prayer or Eucharist, I would not underestimate how these rich and ancient services help the faithful amid lives and a culture which tends to marginalize the faith.

We do not have anything quite like it here.  Oh, truth to tell, I do regularly listen to chapel from my alma mater (Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne) but it is not as pervasive to us Lutherans as Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3 each Wednesday and Sunday at 4 pm.


Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Have you gone up on "The Mountain" to hear Sewanee's Nine Lessons and Carols? I went my vicar year (2000-2001) and enjoyed it.

I, too, listen to Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3 when I can.

Dr.D said...

St. Thomas Church (Episcopal), NYC, has, what I think is a better series of Choral Evensongs available to be heard at their website. They have a Choir School, so they have a choir of men and boys with which to work. They put on Evensong several times a week, and they are utterly magnificent. I always listen to them while I am preparing my sermons.