Sunday, May 8, 2016

The obvious so easily forgotten. . .

After being reminded of that little volume edited by Theodore Graebner entitled The Problem of Lutheran Union and Other Essays, I finally did pull down my copy and read his contribution entitled Our Liturgical Chaos.  Mind you this was not written yesterday or even a couple of generations ago; it was printed in 1935 as work was progressing on The Lutheran Hymnal.  According to Graebner, this book, like LW and LSB, was born of need and into a sea of liturgical chaos.  A few things are worth remembering.

(137) Graebner reminds us of the obvious.  In causing this new liturgy to be printed,, our Synod unquestionably intended to make possible liturgical uniformity in our congregations.  Duh.  Of  course. Synod did not publish that hymnal or LW or LSB to be merely one source for the creative work of writing your own stuff every Sunday morning.  Of course it was the intention of Synod, as it now is, that our hymnal would be the primary (if not exclusive) worship book of all our parishes and thus foster a sense of common liturgical identity to reflect our common theological confession.

Later Graebner writes:  In matters of publis worship the Lutheran Church is the most liberal of all churches.  She insists upon those things which the Word of God shows to be essential.  Yet she permits all of human origin that is edifying and that will contribute to the beauty and efficacy of worship... but, on the other hand, the Confessions as emphatically teach that it is desirable that there should be uniformity in these matters...  Yes, liberty but liberty not for the sake diversity or personal preference or to worship the God of choice.  Liberty to set aside what one may in favor of what is good, right, and salutary for the whole.  We seldom encounter such strong liberty today.  In fact, just the opposite, we are so jealous of our individualism that we refuse and refute the calls to a common liturgical life that mirrors our common theological confession.  According to the Apology, in the use of these matters the use of liberty is to be controlled.

(144) Against those who would pick and choose, Graebner says:  Let us foster a complete liturgical service... let us have uniformity [in this]...  From the tyranny of the clock, set us free, O Lord!  This is as much a prison as the captivity of desire and preference and choice!

(147, 150)  If change at all, why not adopt the historic vestments... Luther retained vestments, candles, altar, etc...  In other words, liberty is best exercised when we strive for that which is catholic (as the Augustana maintains) and for the more rather than the less.  Unless these things cannot be retained, they will be maintained.  That is the confessional liturgical principle we seem to have forgotten.

Perhaps my favorite line from Graebner:  The new pastor forgot the congregation was to be prompted with some announcement of what should have been obvious...  This is not about liturgical direction only but about the obvious value of a uniformity of form and words (though the ceremonial may be as elaborate or simple as reflects the setting, the impetus is always on more and not less).  But that is not quite where we are.  We do not grasp the obvious.  We do not remember why the confession and its liturgical shape on Sunday morning are more than connected but a seamless reflection of the whole -- lex orandi, lex credendi!  So when we forget the obvious, we must be reminded!  From a voice whose words were published 81 years ago!!  As prescient now as then.

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