Sunday, June 11, 2017
Not simply a liturgical problem
We all know and can share the war stories of the odd, strange, and embarrassing things that happen within the confines of the Divine Service. But the problems have less to do with oddities of liturgical aberration. Yes, we have had to bear the burden of clowns, polka music, mimes, pastors who think they are comedians, etc... but our real problems lie beyond even this craziness.
Instead the problems lie with the fact that we no longer think in the kind of terms used by the Scriptures to speak of God and His gifts. We have lost a sacramental sense to earthly reality. We have become so enthralled with the pursuit of the immanent that the transcendent speaks a foreign language to us. Western culture has undergone a profound shift over the last centuries and it has resulted not only in a divergence of thought but of language from the culture of Scripture and tradition.
This is also true of the growing distance from the language and poetry of the great hymns of the faith. We no longer sing them from the vantage point of familiarity both with the vocabulary and the subjects of Scripture and so it is harder for us to sing the age old words with understanding and to appreciate the way they sing the faith.
The fruits of our secular culture and its mindset further and further removed from the Scriptures is that we struggle to maintain a connection with the doctrine and faith of the Church before us and to a piety planted and rooted in the means of grace. No one is suggesting that culture is supposed to be a bridge between today and the eternal of God's Word and Sacraments but when it becomes an impediment, we struggle to know how to receive their gifts and rejoice in their promise. This is a problem compounded by the modern evangelical fixation on the here and now and the use of the Gospel to improve daily life more than bestow eternal life. From the music of secular culture to the pop Christian fare that forms the soundtrack of so many of us, the Gospel is framed in immanent terms as a love affair with a perfect Man who guarantees us all our hopes and dreams. Where is the language of sin and its death? Where is the lament of a fallen humanity for what should have been? Where is the burden of a death God did not mean for His creatures to know? Where is the longing for grace and the appreciation for a mercy undeserved?
So when we enter the Lord's House to encounter Him not in the realm of feelings or desires but of the living voice that speaks the Word that does what is promises and of the living water that kills what is already dead to make eternally alive and of the living bread that feeds and satisfies us with forgiveness and eternal life, how do we receive this?
Rome struggled with a translation of the Mass that was forever rooted in an age in love with love and with itself. We Lutherans know the problems of wedding liturgical text to just such a time. The Romans improved the Mass in 2001 and it was not well received by those who were hoping for a more human and humane vocabulary, more accessible to feelings and less dogmatic. We Lutherans have no GIRM to define and order our liturgical usage and so we simply rewrite the liturgy or abandon it altogether until we achieve a worship setting that fits without temporal focus. Yet the struggle remains one for Lutherans still -- how do we understand the Divine Service and receive the gifts of the means of grace? This is a liturgical question, to be sure, but not exclusively one.