Friday, March 25, 2011

How to nurture a sense of reverence....

When you step through the doorway of a church you are leaving the outer-world behind and entering an inner world. The outside world is a fair place abounding in life and activity, but also a place with a mingling of the base and ugly. It is a sort of market place, crossed and recrossed by all and sundry. Perhaps 'unholy' is not quite the word for it, yet there is something profane about the world. Behind the church doors is an inner place, separated from the market place, a silent, consecrated and holy place... so writes Romano Guardini, Roman Catholic liturgical theologian and historian...  He goes to say that while we know with confidence God's presence in the world, we know access to the Lord and to His grace specifically in the sacred space known as the Church.

The Church is the entrance into the holy city, the New Jerusalem, through which even in this present moment we glimpse the everlasting life and light that is the fruit of His sacrificial self-offering on the cross and His life-giving resurrection.  As Ephesians reminds us, Jesus is the source from which all things come and the one in whom all things find their fulfillment, not in the least of which is you and me.  Worship is not something that comes naturally to us, although the desire to know God and live in His presence is certainly still with us, though distorted since the Fall.  Therefore God must first teach us, as He has done through His Word, so that we might know where to know Him and where He has made Himself known.  And those who know Him in His Word and Sacraments are then given the holy task of teaching this sacred domain and the means of grace to those outside the community of faith and to the children who are nurtured in their young lives of faith within that community.

Part of this task is the teaching of reverence.  Reverence is the training of the mind and also the body for the holy task and gracious privilege of worship.  It is not simply outward ritual, gesture, or posture but uniting both the outward form with the inward posture of the heart (we call it faith).  Part of this training in reverence involves learning a pattern of prayer.  Historically, the daily office was significant in shaping the life of prayer of the individual within the community life together of the Church.  But a pattern of prayer that involves a familiar form and a commitment or discipline may be adapted from a variety of sources.  Many are available within the Lutheran tradition (not in the least of which is the Treasury of Daily Prayer).

Familiarity and comfort with the House of God is also very helpful.  When we become at home within the church building and what goes on in the Sanctuary, then we become free to focus more deeply and completely upon the Word of God and the gifts of grace imparted to us within our Sacrament life together.  It is very difficult to nurture a sense of reverence when the surroundings and what takes place within them is new and unfamiliar to us.  In this way the rhythm of the Church Year and the uniformity of the liturgical ordinary are powerful tools that both foster and encourage this reverence.

We might say that the same is true of the ritual gestures of the liturgy.  Part of the value of these liturgical actions is that they become a part of us, an extension of our inward piety and devotion.  When we make the sign of the cross upon us at the invocation, benediction, and all the points in between, we express outwardly our constant identity as a baptized child of God.  When these gestures become instinctive, then they flow naturally from the prompting of the liturgy or the shape of our private prayer -- reminding us of the grace that first called us to faith and the grace that sustains us.  The more comfortable we are with them, the less they awkwardness we feel with them and the less they become simply an outward act or show.  The fruit of these liturgical actions is the posture of reverence.

Good church architecture provides focal points for our eyes in the rich tapestry of liturgical art.  It begins with the crucifix where we are repeatedly confronted with the all sufficient sacrifice of Christ that is both the cardinal teaching of our faith and the source of all the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that God has generously bestowed upon us.  As one author put it, when the cross is no longer a scandal it no longer speaks of Christ.  Part of seeing Him as the Suffering Savior is remembering not only the gift but the scandal through which that gift comes to us.  Stained glass with its sacred images and stories framed in a window functions in the same way as prompter and shaper of our thoughts and prayer.

The truth is that when the focus is mostly on what we do or what others do, the worship service is at odds with the sense of reverence that is meant to flow from the place where we enjoin our life together with Christ and all those who bear His name.  When the only time we spend in the Sanctuary is time spent "doing worship," reverence is hard to find and, if found, difficult to sustain.  For this reason it is a good thing to come early enough to kneel for a time in prayer, to look around at the sacred images and religious art all around us, to read through the hymns before we sing them, and to become familiar with the lessons for the day before they are read out loud.  This godly preparation bears good fruit for us and for the faith that is nurtured by the means of grace within the context of our life together -- called, gathered, and enlightened by the Spirit at work in this place.

Just a few devotional thoughts about reverence and how to nurture it...


Anonymous said...

If reverence for God's House is truly
a matter of the heart and our faith
in Jesus Christ as our Lord and
Savior, then it will not matter if
there is an Easter cross or a Good
Friday crucifix in the chancel above
the altar.

If we are Easter Christians we can
focus on the joy of our salvation in
the resurrected Christ and rejoice
that the cross is now empty.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

Anonymous, then please put out manger scenes without a baby in it. The manger is now empty too. But that would seem silly, out of place to see empty mangers. So to the cross, an empty cross is a symbol of our faith, but if you have Jesus on the cross, it drastically changes, now you see Jesus in His glory (as Jesus says). Our forgivness is won, our justification does not happen on Easter, but on Good Friday.
So have empty mangers and empty crosses, but it speaks greater to have an incarnate Lord in those placed. Don't be ashamed to see Jesus on the cross. It's how He told you to see Him.

And doesn't Paul, Peter say "we preach Christ resurrected"- NO, but "Christ crucified" "nothing among you except Him crucified", they keep pointing to Good Friday, the crucifixtion need ever be before us.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

Oh, on your use of "Easter Christian", that is completely non-Scriptural, unknown to the Church throughtout the ages. There is no such thing. We are rightly called by our enemies, "Christians" which derived as an insults that we follow a crucified Jew with claims as the Chirst.

On another note, I have found that people who are adverse to crucifixes are also uncomfortable with the truest phrase "God died on the cross", there is a problem with their Christology.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

Oh and since I'm taking a break from sermon writing, your comment "rejoice that the cross is now empty" means nothing. Every cross gets emptied of the dead bodies. Just because they took Jesus off the cross, cross now empty, doesn't mean/prove He is resurrected.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Weinkauf, Hope you feel better now. I know that some things just get on your nerves but at the same time, watch the tone of that sermon you are writing. Might be kinda sharp.

Anonymous said...

Also "Easter cross" is a made-up term.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

The Law is only sharp, and the sweet Gospel always prevails in sermons. A real tragedy is Christians who dismiss, don't understand, don't want to see, are embarrassed by crucifixes. The distingushing comment that, 'well were Easter Christians' and shouldn't have crucifixes is a foolish idea that 'puts down' those with crucifixes (as if they are also this "Easter Christian")

Interesting too, Luther himself advocates that we continue to make the "sign of the cross" and not remove crucifixes from our churches.

I believe crucifixes (and making the sign of the cross) starting disappearing in Lutheran churches from early 1900's-1960's as a backlash against Rome, that we not look too Roman in our ways.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments Rev. Wienkauf. It helps me see this issue.

Janis Williams said...

Being raised in the Baptist church, we were always taught it was "wrong to have Christ on the Cross; He's not there anymore."

Having come to the LCMS as an adult, I have often been amazed at the diversity of "views" among the Lutherans. Never in the Baptist church of my youth would there have been a diversity of views about crucifixes.

Now I am assured I am Christ's and that Lutheranism is the best expression of what Christ and the Apostles meant when speaking about the church. I WANT to know the Creeds and what the Book of Concord (what we believe, teach and confess) says. I don't want a Lutheranism that looks like the Baptists.

As soon as I can afford a nice crucifix to wear, I will be purchasing one. I will wear it, and think on my Savior and what He has done for me.

Fred said...

Pastor Peters says "When the only time we spend in the Sanctuary is time spent 'doing worship,' reverence is hard to find and, if found, difficult to sustain." I miss the days when I could go into the church during the week and sit and pray, or maybe not pray. A couple of years ago they started locking the church up tight except for services and other events, so I don't have the opportunity any longer.

Sometimes I'd meet people working in the kitchen or setting up for an event, and we'd stop and chat for a few minutes. That was always nice, too.

ErnestO said...

The cross empty or full? In the Old Testament the blessing includes the cross and in the New Testament the cross includes the blessing.

Anonymous said...

Weinkauf says "our justification does not happen on Easter"
St. Paul says that He was "raised for our justification."

Fred, It drives me nuts that our church is locked during the middle of the day. Insurance probably. My cynicism thinks it has to do with the keepers of the keys too.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

Anonymous, Romans 4, in the same verse you cite, Paul is speaking of the cross/empty grave together. Of course we don't view the Triduum as unrelated. When Jesus says, "It is finished/accomplished", your payment/atonement for forgiveness of sin is completed which is the place of our forensic justification.

Janis, I certainly commend you.

Anonymous said...

Paul told the congregation at
Corinth, "If Christ has not been
raised, our preaching is in vain
and your faith is in vain. 1 Cor.
15:14 ESV

You can not separate Good Friday and
Easter. The crucifixion and the
resurrection of Christ were necessary
for our salvation. I believe in
the crucified and resurrected Christ