Friday, July 1, 2016

Worship is strange. . .

We are often told to make what happens on Sunday morning welcoming to the stranger, accessible to those who have never been there before, and sensible to those who do not believe.  Indeed, for most of American Christianity, Sunday morning is the primary entrance into the church and the faith for those who are coming from outside.  So we hear from those who are experts in telling us what those outside the faith want to see and hear on Sunday morning.  More often than not, we are told to use common vocabulary, to minimize the ceremonial, to appear ordinary to those whose ordinary is definitely not the same as ours.  Yet I wonder how this is possible -- how can we appear to be normal and ordinary to those outside the faith and still be faithful to the God whose name gathers us and whose Word and Table are the central focus of that gathering?

The Divine Service is, in fact, quite odd, strange, and incomprehensible outside the faith. Those who visit the Divine Service find not only the weird and the strange, but even that which is shocking a not a bit creepy. We speak of God who is present and yet we do not see Him with our eyes.  We talk of the God who made all things from nothing and then just casually drop that this God became flesh and blood in a Virgin by the Holy Spirit.  We are attentive to the words of a book written thousands of years ago and claim this is the living Word of God, the God who is speaking through what was once spoken and then written.  And then there is the oddest of the oddities -- we eat God. And we eat him because He has commanded us to break the bread and give thanks with words spoken once two thousand years ago that still effect what they did that one night in the Upper Room..  He has not only asked us to do this but promised to be in this holy eating and drinking to bestow forgiveness, life, and salvation. We actually believe that an event that occurred over two thousand years now is made present and we participate in its communion as they did who first watched Jesus act and heard His voice immediately.  This is not mere drama or symbolism but God doing what He has promised to do and we eating His flesh and drinking His blood. To those of us who were raised in the faith this might not seem so strange but to the stranger in our midst this has to be nothing less than shocking and perhaps not a little off-putting.  It might not be such a bad idea for us to remember how strange we appear to those not yet of the faith.  It is something wonderfully normal to us but shockingly strange to those not of the Kingdom.

Now I am not at all suggesting that we prevent those not yet of the faith from witnessing what happens on Sunday morning but I am saying that if we are faithful to the Word of God and the tradition of the faith, then they will not miss how odd it is what we are there for, what we believe God is doing, and what we believe we are receiving.  I do not know how to reconcile the strange and yet wonderful oddity that is the Divine Service with the ordinary world of people who do not believe.  I am certainly not saying that we must dumb down what is happening to make it sensible (can it be?) or palatable (can it be?) to those who are walking into the Divine Service for the first time.  But it could be that Sunday morning has become a little too ordinary and not as other worldly and blessedly shocking as it should be if we take the Lord and His Word at face value.

Worship is strange, out of keeping with the ordinary of the world, and anything less than this Godly oddity is unfaithful to the Lord and His Word.  Maybe if we thought about it, we would learn to be moved by what God is doing toward the reverent awe that is quick to bow the head in silence and slower to treat the mystery of it all with unfaithful casualness.  Holy ground requires something more than being comfortable.  If the stranger gets this right away, why does it take us so long to acknowledge that what happens in the Divine Service is so thoroughly out of keeping with the ordinary of a world made by Him but which rejects Him as a stranger!


Anonymous said...

If we are serious about what we are doing, worship must remain somewhat strange even to the most religious. We say that we eat the Body of Christ and drink His Blood. In ordinary terms, this must give us a twinge because this smacks of cannibalism. And yet it is true, and it is Christs' commandment that we do so. There is simply no way that this can be made "comfortable" for any of us, much less the new arrival.

None of the strangeness matters. Our God is strange, strange in the sense that He is very different from us. He is not "one of the guys," and His commands are not just friendly suggestions. We may try to pull God down to our level, but in so doing, we lose sight of God.

Yes, it is all very strange, and strange it must remain.


Janis Williams said...

We cannot do 'church for the unchurched.' Gosh, it's hard enough for the churched! We all have itching ears that want scratching. The best we (the congregation) can do is to take the visitor (Believer or not) into hand, and help him through the Divine Service. My question is: Do we know enough of what it happening to explain it even to ourselves? I am thankful for a service folder/bulletin that has sidebars explaining the Service. We all need to take a moment (NOT during the Service) to read those sidebars.

Carl Vehse said...

"Now I am not at all suggesting that we prevent those not yet of the faith from witnessing what happens on Sunday morning"

Martin Luther did, in an Ecclesiola in Ecclesia-style proposal from his Preface to the German Mass:

"The third kind of Service which a truly Evangelical Church Order should have would not be held in a public place for all sorts of people, but for those who mean to be real Christians and profess the Gospel with hand and mouth. They would record their names on a list and meet by themselves in some house in order to pray, read, baptize, receive the Sacrament and do other Christian works. In this manner those who do not lead Christian lives could be known, reproved, reclaimed, cast out or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matthew 18:15. Here one could also establish a common benevolent fund among the Christians, which should be willingly given and distributed among the poor, according to the example of St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 9:1. The many and elaborate chants would be unnecessary. There could be a short, appropriate Order for Baptism and the Sacrament and everything centered on the Word and Prayer and Love. There would be need of a good brief catechism on the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Our Father. In short, if one had the people and persons who wanted to be Christians in fact, the rules and regulations could easily be supplied.

"But as yet I neither can nor desire to begin, or to make rules for such a congregation or assembly. I have not yet the persons necessary to accomplish it; nor do I observe many who strongly urge it. If circumstances should force me to it and I can no longer refuse with a good conscience, I shall gladly do my part and help as best I may."

Jason Kiefer said...

In regards to what Car/Dr. Strickert posted, I have seen this Preface used and abused by people who wish to rid themselves of a church building, declaring freedom to do what ever, and appear to have a dislike for all things ekklesia. Just my observation. But I am not sure how "Lutheran such an attitude is, and the desire for the modern house church movement.

Of concern for these itching ears is that Lutheran subscribe to the Book of Concord, which states we do not abolish the Mass. The Preface comes form Martin Luther's extra writing, WHICH WE DO NOT SUBSCRIBE TO AND ARE THEREFORE NOT BEHOLDEN TO. Luther
's writings can help us a lot, but they are not norms, and also must be read in light of Scripture and then the Confessions. Context: in that Luther's third kind of service sounds similar to the third use of the Law. Christians are not bound slavishly to the law and cannot help but fail at it. But in sanctified in Christ by the Holy Spirit we gladly follow God's commands joyfully, with out much thought of or coercion by the Law.