Another great stolen line -- this one from my longtime friend and mentor, the Rev. Charles Evanson, speaking at a St. Michael Conference. He used the line to describe how the Pietists had retained the form but emptied the form of any real significance or influence upon their faith and piety. It was as though they put on a set of clothing for Sunday morning but took off the stiff, ill fitting, and uncomfortable clothing to be the real me (the real Christian).
This is the state of things for many Lutherans. They are not those who have abandoned the hymnal or who have cast aside the liturgy. They have no screens or praise bands. They have no contemporary replacement for the familiar page numbers. They follow the liturgy but their heart is not in it. They do what they do on Sunday morning but what they do on Sunday morning, apart from the preaching of the Word, has little to do with their faith and piety in the week. These are bread and butter, salt of the earth kind of Lutherans and yet they see the liturgy as Sunday clothing and not a real reflection of who they are.
Growing up I saw the pastors change but they all stood in the same place at the same time in the Sunday service and they all seemed to follow the same directions. They were not high church or liturgical in the way we might characterize folks who have more ceremonial or ritual. Indeed, they are often very strong anti-Catholic folks when it comes to the ceremonial of the liturgy. But even in their low or broad church liturgical style they still stand out from the landscape of much of rather anti-liturgical Christian America. They follow the hymnal because it is their hymnal and they are Lutheran but their heart is not in it and they do not live in the liturgy.
Though the worship wars usually focus upon the fringes -- those who have cast off all remnant of liturgical identity versus those who love to debate the proper places and manner of censing during the Divine Service -- the real worship war is between those for whom their faith and piety live in the liturgy and are shaped from the liturgy and those whose faith and piety are at home somewhere else. The work of liturgical renewal is not the restoring of the ceremonial from one source or one period or another, it is for the faithful to be at home in the liturgy and to live their faith from the Divine Service. The work of liturgical renewal is not the recapturing of a pristine moment from the past but to recover the piety that is at home in the liturgy and the faith that is formed and shaped by the means of grace within the Divine Service. The work of liturgical renewal is not about the recovery of Eucharistic vestments or chanting or a host of a hundred other catholic forms but the so that we may live within the Divine Service and our lives of faith flow from that encounter with the Crucified and Risen Lord within the liturgy of Word and Table. This is the real worship war and it is fought not between the fringes but for and among those who use the liturgy but do not live there.
Pastor Evanson taught me this. He showed me that Sunday morning was not foreign to your piety and life as a Christian but the essential place where this faith and piety is formed and from which we live the baptismal vocation out. Would that all Lutherans learn to be at home with the Lord in the liturgy, where the means of grace are lived out for us, among us, and through us.
The word "liturgy" is almost as bad as "doctrine," or "theology." Post-modernism has largely destroyed the meaning of many words, and made the rest meaningful only to whoever speaks them. Definitions have become whatever you want a word mean to you. Liturgy happens every day in every life. If you have a breakfast ritual, and must eat the grapefruit before the cereal, you have liturgy. If you must do certain things to your face and hair before you go out for the day you have a liturgy. If you've ever followed a set of instructions to put together something, you've followed a liturgy. Liturgy in the dictionary is connected to worship forms, but the original word simply meant an order of work; the steps you take in a certain order to do things.
Humans are so contrary. It is not just children who say, "black" when you say, "white." We don't like to be told anything; particularly how to do something. Another phrase I have come to believe is true are the seven last words of the Church: "We've never done it that way before." Our memories are short, and we never liked history in school, either. What is latest is greatest, and what's newer is truer.
Familiarity definitely breeds contempt (tired of slogans yet?). Liturgy is somewhat like brushing your teeth. You don't enjoy it, but you do it "because it's good for you." We like to read mysteries, but not to have a part in one. We enjoy doing things where we see results, not ones we are unable to see.
As someone not a Lutheran born, I feel much like Craig Parton (CA lawyer, and not born Lutheran, either). You Lutherans have the greatest 'stuff' going, and you want to dump it! Piety is not found in how long your quiet-time is. Nor is it in how many times you say the Our Father each day. It's not even in how many times you attend the Divine Service. Piety is found in living our lives IN the Sanctus - in shaping our lives around the hosanna (save us), and blessing the ONE who comes in the Name of the Lord. It is living IN the Eucharist; not just partaking of it regularly (though both these things are good, and important!). It is in understanding that the very blood I/we shed on the cross is the very blood which makes us worthy to drink it. It is in the daily living out of the Great Thanksgiving in our minds, hearts, and lives.
Why would a Christian abandon this? Why would we do such a thing woodenly on Sunday if we want to live in it daily?
Sorry to say, but Pr P's & Janis' worda are too highfalutin for me: just what does "living in the liturgy" look like in daily life? Without a clear picture of what is meant, I'm hearing philosphising falderal and jargon rather than learning something potentially edifying. Would someone please be so kind as to unpack this idea?
Janis, you rock! I wish I had 100 Janises sitting in my pews each week! :-)
What does living in the liturgy mean?
It means that the liturgy is familiar, comfortable like your home, the fount and source of your faith, piety and spiritual life, the summit which beckons you to return each Sunday, your teacher in the faith as well as the place where your response to the crucified and risen Lord begins, the longing of your heart and the holy ground of God's presence... among other things. . .
@Pr P: thank you for your answer, but I'm still a bit confused: thks can be said pf any liturgy; familiarity and comfort are often linked. So that any deviation for any reason can be offputting; maybe I've been in the wrong pews, but I've never seen any distinctively Lutheran piety modelled. It is domething other than Reformed with some continuity with the rest of historic Christendom? Romanism sans witchcraft? Evangelicalism with a stable lithium level? Please advise.
Lutheran piety energetically flows from the baptismal encounter with Christ's death and resurrection. We are a people shaped by the means of grace and by the sacramental reality of what God delivers there. The Word is not information for Lutherans or even rule or requirement but the living voice of God through which the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His Church -- not once but every week, bidding us to the means of grace. We are a people shaped by this baptism in the very real sense of vocation in which what we do is itself calling from God in home, neighborhood, workplace, citizenship, and church. We are anchored in the catholic past to which a robust evangelical forms and shapes us -- from the Divine Service to Confession to our lives under the cross. We are a catechetical people for whom the catechism is not a substitute for the Scripture but faithful summary and application of that Scripture. We are a people of the new song, singing the Gospel as much as speaking it in hymns that unfold the story of Christ, the center of the Scriptures and the key through which we come to know and understand them. We are a people in but not of the world, neither disdaining the present day nor content to live in it alone. We are a people who live under authority -- the authority of Christ and His Word, bound by written Confession. Our piety is not marked by a few practices or actions but flows from and lives within the Divine Service as the baptized receiving God's gifts to pray them, sing them, and use them back to God for His glory.
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