quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

liberal use of the liturgy

The word "liberal" here is not to make a specific political, social, or economic statement. Nor is the word "liberal" being placed together with the word "liturgy" here to advance lifestyles that are apart from the divine order in creation. Finally, this is not about changing the liturgy or advancing new forms of ministry.

What is said by using these words together, "liberal use of the liturgy"? The liberal use of the liturgy is another way of saying liturgical renewal, that is renewal in learning, using and advancing the liturgy. This is of interest to those who know that a service in the hymnal is not the liturgy and a given hymnal is not the liturgy but the use of the hymnal among Lutherans, for example, is the preferred and expected tool of those who are in liturgical renewal. Another example of liturgical renewal is a church building where the altar has a central and visible role as the place where the sacrament is offered and distributed. There are many other aspects of liturgical renewal among us. In short, liturgical renewal is clearly distinct and separate from efforts to provide and/or produce religious forms of entertainment.

In addition to liturgical renewal, "liberal use of the liturgy" may refer to "liberal" use of time to advance the gathering of people in prayer. For example, this may mean additional weekday services in Advent and Lent. Outside of the celebration of Christmas, another example of this are the services of Holy Week. Using time to hear the Word of God and receive the Sacrament, from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, including the opportunities of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, are of spiritual discipline and benefit. There is another opportunity with the Feast of the Ascension. These are all opportunities for renewal in Christ. Renewal in Christ is the best understanding of liturgical renewal and the liberal use of the liturgy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Seeing more than what's in our heart

I am not sure if it is a cultural thing or not to focus continuously on matters of personal anfechtung or angst. The faith gets reduced to a matter of an individual personal struggle within (with stress on "individual", "personal", "struggle", "within"). Those who can manifest such struggles have the truest faith while others are left to wonder why they do not have enough faith. In recent years, de-pression seems to be a popular topic in the media outlets and elsewhere, usually though without any spiritual answers offered.

Theologically, this tension or contrast is often described in terms of sin and forgiveness or grace, or in the training I received, "Law and Gospel." In short, we are sinners, unable to save ourselves. God in His mercy freely saves us for Jesus' sake (the cross). Pastors are called on to preach sin and salvation in Christ.

Generally speaking, who can criticise a principle such as this? It seems simple, clear and straight forward enough. I am the sinner and Jesus is the Savior. All of Christianity embraces this truth in one degree or another. There is certainly not anything unbiblical about these basic teachings.

What then is the difficulty? Laetare is probably as good an example as any. "Laetare" means rejoice. In this age of de-pression, austerity, etc., one is almost made to feel guilty for reading or hearing the psalmist say, "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord." We know there are many forces at work here. Even those of us who go into the house of the Lord do not always do so with gladness. Still, we ought not feel guilty or be made to feel guilty if attending church brings us spiritual benefit. With all of the emphasis on sin I hear lately, maybe it's a good thing that Laetare sneaks into Lent as Gaudete had done with Advent.

We get the point - Jesus is the Savior from sin. This is no small thing. The Cross is no small event. But neither is the Incarnation. Here is where the Creed is helpful. The Creed does not pit the Cross and the Incarnation against each other as I have often heard discussed in recent years. The Creed confesses all of the merciful and saving works of God in Christ from the Incarnation to the Ascension. All of what Christ does for us is central to the work of our salvation. The Creed helps saves us from ourselves and our own notions.

Back to Law / Gospel. There is no way any paradigm can be forced onto a given text. For example, in the healing of the blind man (John 9) the blind man says, "Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him." We can relate to the first part about being sinners, no problem there. What about the second part, isn't the blind man commending doing good things to ensure God's hearing? If we look at the text via a principle the blind man is certainly advancing a theological error. On the other hand, if God can heal a blind man and create faith through hearing of the Word, certainly He can lead sinners to worship Him and do His will, albeit imperfectly. So we hear the blind man charged with being "completely born in sins" and cast out. What does Jesus have to say about this? He finds the blind man and asks him, "Do you believe in the Son of God?" How does it all turn out in the end? The blind man says, "Lord, I believe!" The Evangelist records, "And he worshiped Him."

A couple of observations, not every text is going to say to me that I am a sinner and Jesus is my Savior. Nor is it always easy for the preacher to make that connection with every text or put a principle onto a text. The text also shows us other things about God and man that are not always necessarily interior or based in angst and anfechtung. For example, Jesus is more concerned that the once blind man (and we) "believe in the Son of God." The man now seeing, sees a man externally and sees Him as the Son of God and worships Him. There are both external and internal aspects of the faith. This is indeed what we confess in the Creed, "I believe . . . all things visible and invisible . . . and in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . God of God, Light of Light . . ."

A final observation - in an age of de-pression and austerity, when sin and law are overemphasized, it is better to see things like the blind man did. Then Laetare is not as difficult a thing as it may first appear. Lent may seem to be a more somber time. There is some truth to that. Still, the Scripture for our hearing is here as it is throughout the year, and sometimes it manifests itself more richly, or He manifests Himself more clearly, to us than we may at first expect. If Lent is all about our feelings, then there is no reason to receive the gifts of God. Rather Lent is all about the one of whom the once blind man said, "If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing."


Saturday, March 02, 2013

a fun look at dates of the calendar

The date for Oculi, tomorrow, is 3/3/13. We are well into Lent now and looking ahead to Easter, which falls this year on 3/31/13. Many 3s, and some 1s. We know what it means when 3 and 1 are together. Tomorrow, Oculi mei semper ad Dóminum - Mine eyes are ever towards the Lord. Easter Sunday, Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum - I arose, and am still with Thee. 3 and 1 together, also a good numerical reminder of the togetherness of Lent and Easter.