An interesting article in the journal Religions (which is open access) on Holden Village and their attempt to revise Marty Haugen's Vespers liturgy.
I was more interested in the author's portrayal of how Holden's new co-directors have "conscientiously prioritized diversifying Holden Village's constituency by race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation." It seems to be a further radicalization of Holden's already progressive identity, making me wonder how long it will remain predominantly Lutheran. Here is the link: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/14/9/1191
One winter day, by Haugen's telling, the volunteer leader passed out a paper bag to every person as they entered the worship space. Instructing the congregation to open their green Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) to the Vespers service, the leader invited everyone to place the paper bag on their head whenever something in the liturgy offended them.
As the cantor intoned the opening phrase, Haugen recalled, "someone put the paper bag on their head and left it there for the entire service". Many others joined at intervals, registering revulsion toward various lines and passages. Haugen continued: "that's why we came to know we needed a new Vespers" (Haugen 2023).
Okay. Everyone knows that the ELCA is hardly Lutheran. And Holden Village is on the left fringe of the ELCA. And though this predictable, it is no less shocking to most conservative Christians and to orthodox Lutherans in particular. I am not writing to heap complaint upon those who find that Lutheranism and any specific religion is merely a piece of the man-made religious pie. They will have to account for their own errors before the Lord and my judgment against them does not matter much. But there is something here worth pondering.
The truth is that everything in God's Word and in any faithful and orthodox liturgy and hymnal is offensive. It offends our sinful nature. Just because we have been born again in the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit has created faith within us to receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, it does not mean that our sinful nature goes quietly into the night to leave us without challenge or complaint. This is the great battle of the faith -- not simply against the devil and the world but against our own sinful nature. We confess this as Lutherans when we say we are by nature sinful and unclean. Every day we battle being offended by the truth of God. Though this is the only truth that saves, the truth of the cross and empty tomb offends our sinful natures and the familiar pattern of sin that was ingrained into our minds. Yes, part of us rejoices to hear that Word and to believe in it and to receive from that Word the fruits of Christ's redeeming work. Daily, under God's grace and power, the part of us that rejoices continues to grow until, in heaven, it encompasses the whole of us and there is no more resistance or complain. Until that day the Lord daily redeems us from our weakness before temptation and our deliberate choice to offend Him. It is the power of forgiveness and to receive it the Spirit must do another mighty work in us to bring us to repentance and confession, owning our sin without excuse or justification.
My point is this. Who cares if Vespers or Matins or the Divine Service offends the person who walks in off the street or the sinner in the pew who is a baptized child of God? As long as the words are faithful to God's Word, that is what matters. Furthermore, the power of salvation is not a liturgy or Scripture made palatable or friendly to the person who reads, prays, or sings it. It's power is the Spirit and it is the Spirit who makes sure that the Word that goes forth will not return to the sender empty handed. It has become routine and ordinary for Christians to forget this and to presume it is our job to filter God's Word and to soften its jagged edges and to make friendly its voice so that folks will not be offended. But if they will not be offended, they also will not be saved. Without the Spirit, Christ is a always a stumbling stone of offense. It is the Spirit's work to turn this stumbling stone into the cornerstone. Making God's Word less offensive or redoing the liturgy to make it less offensive is not the means to turning the stumbling stone into the cornerstone. The Spirit does that. Thanks be to God!