Thursday, March 1, 2018

Good Theater Is NOT Good Worship

The great temptation for presider and preacher alike is to treat the domain of worship as a stage and to act as an actor portraying a part and speaking lines for dramatic effect upon the watcher and hearer.  It happens in the liturgical churches when we forget that the Word and Sacraments are actually means of grace and deliver what they speak of and sign.  But it happens no less, and perhaps even more, in non-liturgical churches when tools of the trade are used to heighten the emotional/spiritual experience of the day.

But the Word is not a script and worship not theater and the chancel is not a stage.  It is not a re-enactment of an event to make something distant to us feel near and relevant.  The Sacraments are not drama.  They actually bestow what they sign.  These are not things we do because they are meaningful to us or because they prod our memories for worship more cerebral than anything else.  No, indeed, these are the means of grace by which God continues to bestow the fruits of our Savior's once for all sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection.

Nowhere is this temptation to view what happens as "holy drama" more difficult to resist than in the Words of Institution.  The Lord took bread.  We take bread.  The Lord gave thanks.  We give thanks.  The Lord broke the bread.  We break the bread.  The Lord offered the cup.  We offer the cup.  We do this in remembrance of Him.  But that has it all wrong.  We are not the actors nor are the Verba Christi a script.  Instead it is and remains the Lord's Supper and His voice speaking through our mouths His Word to set apart the bread to be His body and the wine His blood.  This IS His remembrance, His testament given to us not so that we might recall our Lord in our minds but receive with our lips the precious elements that deliver the precious fruits to us.

The pastor is not an “actor” in a theatrical sense.  He stands in persona Christi and He is alter Christus.  The words of consecration need not be dramatized.  They are more than drama.  The actions of the liturgy are not drama but teach the faith and point us to Christ.  The Divine Service bestows upon us the promised future right here in the present.  Neither pastor nor people are acting out anything or an audience to anything.  God is actor and we respond.  We do not merely watch but receive His gifts and by His Spirit He enables us to respond.  It is God's service and He is serving us.  Once we begin to get this the liturgy will cease to be an arena for us to shine and become the holy place where God comes as our Emmanuel in Word and Sacrament.


Carl Vehse said...

In the Concordia Seminary Concordia Theology video, WHAT IS THE “VERBAL PERFORMANCE OF SCRIPTURE”?, CSL Prof. David Schmitt interviews the Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler:

Prof. David Schmitt: "Michael, could you explain just what the 'verbal performance of Scripture' is?"

Rev. Michael Zeigler: "It is the retelling of a passage of Scripture—some longer, some shorter—in a way that tries to be authentic to the first century experience, when not a lot of people are reading. Small literacy rate, so most of these texts were heard or performed by a reader or preacher."

Schmitt: "So instead of reading the texts to myself, and instead of somebody reading the texts to me, I'm going to have somebody actually perform it. What would be the value of that?"

Zeigler: "Not being able to stop and go back or to pause on one word you receive the Word in an immersive kind of experience that the Word kind of washes over you. And it has the feeling kind of like listening to a story. If soneone were sharing some event that happened to them and they were interested and wanted to share it with you, you wait on them to tell you what comes next. They might delay the punchline or whatnot, and you're just there listening."

At 15:00 in the video Dr. Zeigler demonstrates an example of the "verbal performance of Scripture."

Carl Vehse said...

The inspiration for this latest Schwärmerei may be a 2013 book, Bring the Word to Life: Engaging the New Testament through Performing It, by Richard F. Ward & David J. Trobisch (Wm B. Eerdmans, 110 pages). Referring to a Christmas party in which Luke's story of Jesus' birth was read by United Theological Seminary professor Thomas Boomershine, Richard Ward writes (pp. ix - x):

"The manner of his presentation was also intriguing. It was similar to other modes of performance I was familiar with but didn't quite conform to any one of them. It resembled theatre because Tom treated the biblical text like a 'script' and spoke it as if he were 'acting' the part of the biblical narrator. Yet he wasn't 'in character' — he wasn't impersonating a character developed by a playwright. The presentation had the spontaniet of storytelling, but the teller of the story was sticking closely to the words of a text that he himself had not created. It was more like an oral interpretation of a text, except he had internalized the actual text — it was not something that he held in his hands or referred to on a lectern....

"One of the things that biblical studies awakens is an interest in 'origins,' as in 'Where did this text come from?' Performing a text awakens an interest in origins too — 'How was a text like this done?' 'How was it 'performed'?' And then, 'How shall I perform it now?' Asking these questions together brings about a vital collaboration between performance studies and biblical interpretation through the practice of performing literature. Performance study of biblical texts yields new, imaginative ways to experience them and to present the interpreter's understanding of both the texts and the narrative worlds they come from."

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I have heard Pastors preach the way you described. None were LCMS. The Gospel can be effectively preached without trying to turn the pulpit into a Shakespearean monologue.