Thursday, February 04, 2010

Give me liturgy, or give me death!

My apologies to Patrick Henry for borrowing his thunder, but I couldn't resist. After doing a search, I find that I'm not the first to make this statement (though in all fairness, I had never heard it before). But regardless of the originality of the statement, there is as much need for these words today as there was for Patrick Henry to speak the original words over two centuries ago.

Perhaps some might view this as hyperbole. Oh, that Kornacki character doesn't take things seriously. On the contrary, there are few things in this world that I consider with more gravity than the divine liturgy of the Mass. I have always loved the liturgy. Outside of baseball achievements, one of the things I remember most about my youth is the day I realized in the midst of the worship service that I knew by heart all the words of the liturgy, both for the congregation and the pastor. I was eight at the time, and the congregation had just made the move over to the "new" hymnal, Lutheran Worship. This was a major accomplishment for me. Instead of reading the words, I could recite them--pray them--and consider their meaning. Of course, at eight years of age, those considerations were hardly profound. Nevertheless, it was the start of a time of spiritual growth for me.

Having the liturgy in my spiritual toolbox was especially important a few years later, when I got into my car accident. I don't remember much about that evening. But in what to this point in my life was my darkest hour, when I was laying terrified on a gurney in an ambulance, on a day of which I remember precious little, I remember praying parts of the liturgy, including the Lord's Prayer. I remember singing "Abide With Me". These gifts, these treasures which so many in the Church disregard and dispose of with nary a thought, took me to the feet of my Savior in the midst of tribulation.

A year later, on vicarage, my supervisor took me to visit one of our shut-ins. This beautiful woman welcomed us with open arms, even though she didn't know who I was and couldn't remember who her pastor was. She remembered very little. But when Pastor began the liturgy in preparation for Communion, this child of God who remembered so little otherwise began to pray the liturgy with us, word-for-word.

It is in the liturgy in which we are given the Sacraments, where we receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Some might complain that the liturgy is boring because of all the repetition. But it is that very repetition that makes the liturgy so important for the Christian in his daily walk with Christ. When we walk out of the sanctuary, we walk out into the world, where Satan, "this world's prince", is looking for someone he can lead away from the rest of Christ's flock, someone to devour. In returning to the liturgy, we return to the waters of Holy Baptism, where

I've experienced the generic Protestant service. I will say this: there's a lot of excitement. Some have the dancing, some the arm waving, others the exciting new music, still others the incomprehensible rambling from the people "speaking in tongues"--which, by the way, are never interpreted for the congregation--and these things are very emotional. But there's not much substance there, and I'm hard pressed to figure out how I could rely on any of these things to help me to pray while I was laying dazed in an ambulance. After all, so much of what happens without liturgy is that we tell God what we do for Him, how much we love Him, how we lift His name high, how holy our desires for him are. And those moralistic sermons are informative, but when your life is in shambles and you feel like you can't make it right, how can it help to hear that you have to do even more?

I find great joy in the words of Scripture upon which the liturgy is based. I become very emotional during a number of our "dull" hymns and at points of our "boring" liturgy. We sing about "Easter triumph" which destroys sin and brings us "Easter joy". We sing that Jesus ". . . lives and grants me daily breath. He lives and I shall conquer death." What comfort, what joy those words are! We sing about Christ who is "the life of all the living". We sing about vocation, which is lives as Christians which are lived in response to what Jesus has done for us. We hear sermons which tell us that we are forgiven children of God, relieved of the burden of "doing more" because Christ has done all things necessary for our salvation. These are beautiful things, and I literally weep tears of joy for the wonderful blessings God delivers to us in the Divine Service and the words we have been given to speak and sing in response to what we receive.

After all, the Divine Service is, first and foremost, about what God does for us. It's not meant to focus on us and how we feel or what we do. Instead, the Divine Service points us to Christ and what He gives to us there: forgiveness, life, and salvation. The gifts we receive in the Divine Service are vital to our lives as Christians, and we take those things with a deadly seriousness, even as we experience great joy in what we receive.

No comments: