"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." (Matthew 6:7)
It is easy to jump to a false conclusion here. We tend to think that shorter is better when it comes to worship, preaching, and prayer. Indeed, one of the complaints about liturgical development is embellishment and one of the characteristics we presume for the earlier and more development forms and rites is brevity. While there may be truth in this, why do we assume that shorter is better? Why do we presume that words detract? Our Lord does not condemn repetition in Matthew 6 but vain repetition. In other words, the Lord complains about words that have no meaning to the voice that speaks them, words that are spoken without faith. Many words are not a substitute for honest words born of faith. Yes. Of course. God is not placated by appearances that are not rooted in repentance and faith. But that does not translate into the idea that shorter is better, that brevity is the goal.
Why is it that the moments we love are ones we desire to extend and the time spent in worship, hearing the Word preached, and in prayer should be cut short? Does that mean we are happier to spent time watching our favorite team or a good movie or eating with friends or sharing one of the significant moments of life than we are meeting the Lord in His Word and at His Table? We with some moments would never end and we cannot wait to for some to end. I get that. Waiting rooms and lines are filled with people who just want the waiting to end. But what does it say about us that we are clock watchers during the Divine Service?
Every pastor has heard it a million times. I was at a mass the other day and they did the whole service, sermon, and communed a zillion people and were still out in an hour. If you cannot get your point across in 10 minutes, why do you think you can get it across in 20 minutes? There is a game on today: do you suppose you could cut it short so we get out on time? Ouch. Not for me but for the Lord who is the object of our praise and whose gifts are the reason we gather. We love you, Lord, but not enough to hang around too long.
We have no clocks in the nave or chancel. I know of a pastor who insists that all those participating in the liturgy remove their watches (only liturgical jewelry like a cross ring or wedding ring are allowed). I also know of churches that built in clocks to pulpits so the pastor would get the hint. And I know of churches where some folks will give not so subtle signals to the pastor to move it along. What happened to the idea that in worship we set aside the chronos for the kairos -- the clicking clock for the ripe and full moment of God's salvation?
You get no apology from me that we routinely go 75-80 minutes in a service. We do not pare down worship as if it were something filled with added, optional, unnecessary extras. We do it all. As we should. The only variation is the time taken for distribution (with fewer communicants it obviously takes less time than with a full house). We do not rush. We do not speak the words of the liturgy or read the Word of the Lord at a fast pace but a deliberate one. We are on the holy ground of God's gracious favor and bidding. When you are ushered into the holy place where God dispenses unmerited grace, you do not glance at the clock to see how long the Lord is taking. How long does worship last? As long as it needs.
My advice to pastors is to slow down. Pause. Allow for some silence. Teach your people how important is the time we spend in the Lord's House and how rude and even unbelieving it is to count it down as if it were an unpleasant ordeal one hoped would end as soon as possible. My advice to people is to stop paying attention to the clock. Listen. Learn. Pray. Rejoice. Sing. Reflect. You are in the presence of the Almighty. His Word is the only one that neither changes nor expires. It is forever. This time around the Word and Sacraments of the Lord is the ripe moment, the fullness of time, when God acts in the wonder, mystery, and delight that only God can. Here He speaks into our ears wooing our divided hearts and here He passes over our lips heaven's bread and salvation's cup. Instead of rushing out, linger.
1 Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.
2 Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with thee the royal wine of heav'n;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiv'n.
3 This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heav'nly table spread for me;
Here let me feast and, feasting still prolong
The brief bright hour of fellowship with thee.
4 I have no help but thine; nor do I need
Another arm save thine to lean upon;
It is enough, O Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in thy might, thy might alone.
5 Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt, but thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace:
Thy blood, thy righteousness, O Lord, my God.
6 Too soon we rise; the vessels disappear;
The feast, though not the love, is past and gone.
The bread and wine remove, but thou art here,
Nearer than ever, still my shield and sun.
7 Feast after feast thus comes and passes by;
Yet, passing, points to the glad feast above,
Giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,
The Lamb's great marriage feast of bliss and love.
If, as Arthur Just’s book is titled, the Divine Service is “Heaven on Earth,” we should remember Heaven is not a part of our time-space continuum. Therefore, when we step into the sanctuary, we step out of our time, and into God’s eternity.
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