Sunday, September 12, 2021

The best catechesis. . .

I have come to believe that the Divine Service with its rich experience of Scripture in the propers, the rhythm of the ordinary, and hymnoday is the best catechesis.  Quite frankly, I am tired of new members classes in which we try to touch all the bases, cover everything, and end up rushing through because there is so much to cover -- only to skip or give short shrift to the Divine Service and the shape of Christian worship in which their lives will grow and nourish until death!  It was an Orthodox friend who said that the liturgy is the best teacher and he is exactly right.  I only wish we paid more attention to this and directed our new people to the Divine Service as the place where faith is formed and shaped.  Instead we presume that if we cover the six chief parts in some fashion or another, we have done all that needs be done.  It is no wonder that our people are leaving the churches -- they think they have captured the faith in summary and that what happens on Sunday morning is only frosting on their individual faith cake.  If we had done a better job of catechizing them in the liturgy, perhaps they would find it harder to leave the altar, font, and pulpit and replace it with a praise team, praise band, contemporary feel good music, and a sermon on how God wants you to be happy.

At some point I realized that as important as the catechism is, and it IS important, what nurtures and nourishes my faith is the Divine Service -- the complete experience of the preparation in confession and absolution to the Service of the Word and its exposure to the great events of God's mighty deliverance to the Service of the Eucharist and its bestowal of Christ's body and blood to my unworthy and undeserving self.  There simply is no replacement for the weekly participation in the Divine Service -- and with it, I must add, the great hymns of the faith (especially Lutheran chorales!).  It is not that I am against new member classes and their tradition focus on the six chief parts, it is that this class is but a bare introduction to the life of the faithful gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord every week.  

In conversations with the faithful, I think folks have a general grip on what the faith is -- they confess the creed every week!  But if you ask them about the Divine Service, it is often as question they cannot answer.  We do it because we are Lutheran but we do not know what the Divine Service is or why we have preserved it and are so devoted to it.  They have not been taught the rubrics and so they do not attach the meaning to what is happening -- that to which the ceremonies point and make visible.  They may like the Divine Service or they may not but they assume that this is about the sum of it all -- whether you like it or find it meaningful or not.  The reality of what it means to hear God speaking His efficacious Word or meet the Lord where He is both host and food is missing.

Scripture ties it all together for us: 

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

For years I have wondered how good Lutheran folk could leave the Divine Service and become Baptists or Methodists or non-denominationals.  It can only happen because they do not know what they are leaving behind to become part of a church without any semblance of a sacramental life.  Leaving the vibrant sacramental reality of Word and Meal can only happen because unbelief sets in.  I am convinced it is impossible to exchange this wondrous mystery for a Joel Osteen happy hour or a Protestant lecture on how to set goals and achieve them.  Maybe I am wrong, I often am, but I am more and more convinced that the failure of our catechesis is not in the information we are conveying but in the failure to give a compelling presentation of what is happening every Sunday in the Divine Service.

The other part of this is hymnody.  Rome does not care about hymns (or it would have long ago replaced the shallow and trendy stuff of Joncas, Haugen, and Haas for something a great deal more substantial).  Protestants are too busy trying to combine politically correct lyrics with feel good sentiment to bother with real hymns of faith.  We Lutherans are left.  We were there in the beginning, so it figures we would be there this late in the game.  We may not be the only ones writing Lutheran hymns but we understand how hymns teach us the faith and nurture that faith in the worst of times.  As a deacon at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ft. Wayne, I recall visiting a blind elderly woman in the then Ft. Wayne Lutheran Home.  All she wanted from me was to read hymns stanzas.  After a while I began to see that she was moving her lips.  I was reading hymn stanzas she had committed to memory.  Now, in the twilight of her life with fading eyes and a fragile body, these hymns of her childhood came back to comfort, sustain, encourage, and console her -- literally she was singing herself into heaven!

If we teach adequately the six chief parts and introduce them to the wondrous mystery of the Divine Service and the rich voice of the sturdy hymns of the faith, we have grasped hold not only of their heart and mind but their soul.

Lord Jesus Christ, You have prepared
    This feast for our salvation;
It is Your body and Your blood,
    And at Your invitation
As weary souls, with sin oppressed,
We come to You for needed rest,
    For comfort, and for pardon.
Although You did to heav’n ascend,

    Where angel hosts are dwelling,
And in Your presence they behold
    Your glory, all excelling,
And though Your people shall not see
Your glory and Your majesty
    Till dawns the judgment morning,
Yet, Savior, You are not confined
    To any habitation;
But You are present even now
    Here with Your congregation.
Firm as a rock this truth shall stand,
Unmoved by any daring hand
    Or subtle craft and cunning.

We eat this bread and drink this cup,
    Your precious Word believing
That Your true body and Your blood
    Our lips are here receiving.
This Word remains forever true;
All things are possible with You,
    For You are Lord Almighty.
Though reason cannot understand,
    Yet faith this truth embraces:
Your body, Lord, is even now
    At once in many places.
I leave to You how this can be;
Your Word alone suffices me;
    I trust its truth unfailing.
Lord, I believe what You have said;
    Help me when doubts assail me.
Remember that I am but dust,
    And let my faith not fail me.
Your supper in this vale of tears
Refreshes me and stills my fears
    And is my priceless treasure.
Grant that we worthily receive
    Your supper, Lord, our Savior,
And, truly grieving for our sins,
    May prove by our behavior
That we are thankful for Your grace
And day by day may run our race,
    In holiness increasing.
For Your consoling supper, Lord,
    Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for in ev’ry place
    The world against it rages.
Grant that this sacrament may be
A bless├Ęd comfort unto me
    When living and when dying.

1 comment:

Michael Taylor said...

The liturgy is portrayed as some kind of immature German Lutheran medievalism that we somehow have to grow out of and grow up into some kind of more authentic postmodern - feel something. It is the "Coming-of Age" for church people to reject childhood notions of God who is present and services that seem to have been fashioned out of the Six Chief Parts that was learned at puberty. Jesus says unless you are like this child .......