Sameness may not be exciting but it is comforting. The familiar may not be spontaneous or fresh but it is like a wonderful old blanket in which we can wrap up ourselves. The liturgy is that blanket for me. The familiar of the Divine Service is the home God has made for us to bestow upon us His grace and favor. It offers us no surprise but the predictable promise that never fails. God is where He has pledged to be. He is always there as the voice of His Word, as the cleansing power of water, as the absolution that restores the fallen, as the bread that tastes His body and the wine His blood. The shock and surprise is that He is exactly where He has promised to be always -- no other promise is so sure. We would test it just to see if there might be chance God will not be where He says He will be but He cannot break His Word.
Routines can be frustrating and even boring but they can also be the familiar rhythm of our lives that keep us in time and on time. Everything has a beat and a cadence. Life does. Work does. Rest does. And so the Church Year is the rhythm and march of our new lives, born from baptismal water. They are one of the means by which the Spirit works to bring to our remembrance all that God has done to save us. His mighty act of deliverance shapes the part of the year we know only so well -- from Advent's promise to Christmas miracle to Epiphany revelation to the Lent's cruciform shape to Easter's glory to Pentecost's power. And then the rest of the year repeats the familiar miracles and teaching that unfold through the lectionary. Even the pattern of the hymn of the day contribute to the pace of time in which Sunday gives way to Sunday and we make our way from the Eucharist and back to it.
This pandemic year has robbed us of that. Most folks missed Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Easter 2020. They dribbled back into worship as fear and restriction gave way to hesitant courage and governmental permission. The Church did not return to God's House with a bang but a whimper. Even in places like Clarksville where the lights never went out, small groups of 10 met in the vast space that once had standing room only. Even if we worshiped in person on Easter, we kept our distance and did not dare to eat Easter breakfast together. Unlike here at Grace, most congregations skipped Sunday school and VBS and summer picnics and all the other old stuff that did not seem to be all that important until they we missed them. Even if they were held, the numbers were small and the routines had to be adapted to meet the requirements of life lived in the shadow of a virus. Even though a full year passed, Lent and Easter 2021 were in no way normal. Too many of us missed the great choir and the sound of brass and limped our way to the cross and empty tomb (at least in comparison to our usual celebrations). And we missed it. The old routines beckoned to us and we yearned for the sameness of the familiar patterns of our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord.
For too long we thought the liturgy was like an chair in need of some new springs and upholstery. And then a pandemic comes along and all we want to do is sit in the old, comfortable chair again. The people in the pews feel it. So do the pastors. We will never recover what we have lost but our hope is not simply in the routines. Our hope lies in the thing that makes the routine -- God is always there where He has promised to be. Now all that matters is that we are there where He has promised to be. And then the cycle will be complete.