Friday, May 29, 2020
Why not in my parish?
The experience of the Divine Service is fully sensory -- not simply what is heard in the ear but the engagement of all the senses. This has especially to do with the cause of beauty and its effect as accompaniment to the Word. Beauty is not an end but a means and it works with the means of grace to support this full sensory experience of the Divine Service.
I have said repeatedly that it does not matter what other things are being done, if the worship life of the congregation is not the core, center, and driving force of these other things, the church is failing. If the Divine Service is not the font and source as well as summit and end of our lives together as the people of God and our individual vocations as the baptized people of God, there is something gravely wrong.
Although no parish is perfect, every parish can strive for excellence and fullness and this yearning and energy is directed first and foremost at the Divine Service -- the beating heart of our life together. In the physical setting, in the music of the liturgy, in the vestments, in the reverence of those serving, and in the preaching, excellence is evident as the goal and it is equally evident when it is not a primary or even significant concern. How do we expect God's people to take seriously what is happening in the Divine Service when we do not treat it seriously, with the respect and awe that is due the Lord who is present with us in His Word and Sacrament.
You do not have to be high church (a term I do not use but many do) to value and strive for this over all sense of beauty, majesty, reverence, and awe as we come into the holy ground of God's presence. What has happened over the course of this pandemic is that we have seen more and more video examples of what happens in many of our congregations. Without singling out any for review, a good question for us to ask as we survey these services online is what does this tell us about the Church? In addition, what does this tell us about how this parish sees God and their place before Him?
When the most prominent symbols before God's people assembled in His presence are a drum set or the technological paraphernalia of an elaborate audio or video system, what does that say about how we view the holy ground of God's presence? When the Word speaks from a bar stool or other casual seating, what does that say about the way we view that Word? When the musicians are more prominent than the music and the people are spectators before those who entertain them, what does that say about the very medium Luther called the handmaiden of the Word?
Nobody has to replicate a vision of the past in order to pursue excellence, to honor beauty, and to help our people connect the faith believed to the way we act. This is not about big budgets or artistic snobbery. Yet we would do well to remember how the generations before sacrificed so that the house of God would be a place of beauty -- as much as possible a place worthy of what was happening inside! My point is not to shame but to encourage. To the poor in their need, to the sick in their suffering, to the troubled in their fears, and to the ordinary life in its routine, the need for beauty and excellence in the Divine Service is great, indeed. We who would lead God's people in the Divine Service should take this to heart. Whatever we can do, we should do and what we should do, we should not delay in the pursuit of our best for His glory. It is never enough but it is a place to begin and this is the time to work toward this goal.