Saturday, October 12, 2013

Glory Be, To All Three

Why do we say or sing “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever”?

This little prayer, named the “Gloria Patri” after its first two words when said in Latin, is also known as the “lesser doxology.”  A “doxology” is short hymn or expression of praise.  A popular one you may be familiar with is “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”  You’ll notice that even that one ends “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”  The reason for this is that Christian praise MUST be Trinitarian.  Christians worship a God who is three in one, and this mysterious truth is at the heart of everything we believe about God (theology), which in turn shapes the praise we give to him (doxology).  How we pray to and praise God shapes what we believe about Him over time, yet what we believe about God also influences how we worship.  It may seem like the chicken and the egg, but nonetheless it is important for Christians to worship God in spirit and in truth:  To worship Him in truth must include worshiping Him as He has revealed Himself to be in Scripture.  So we therefore use this brief little prayer to proclaim that our praises are for the Triune God of the Christian scriptures.  This is why it is often used at the end of a Psalm:  though the Psalms are all about Christ from beginning to end, He is not mentioned by name, so the use of a trinitarian doxology sets our use of the Psalms apart from their original Jewish context.  Many hymns in the Lutheran Service Book also close with a Trinitarian doxology.  This is indicated by a triangle symbol before the final stanza.  The “Gloria Patri” is the oldest and most well known doxology, dating from the fourth century.  So when we pray this little hymn of praise to God, we are singing a prayer that has united believers across the centuries, just like the Lord’s prayer, and that is continually being prayed around the world today.  Because it is not metered (unlike “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”), it is often added to the end of anything chanted, including the Psalms, Introit, Nunc Dimittis, and the song of Mary.  In a world where many different gods compete for our attention and devotion, adding this little prayer to the end of our praises is a bold declaration that we worship the God of the Bible, who has come to us in the person of Jesus.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

No Bulletin Liturgy for You!

Why are we reading from these books in front of us?
What happened to my bulletin?  The words are all gone!

The bulletin today contains only an outline of the service so that we can find our place.  The words of our worship service can be found in the brown book in the pews in front of you, with a gold cross on the upper right of the front cover, called the “Lutheran Service Book.”  It might look like just a hymnal, but it’s actually so much more.  It also includes things such as a daily Bible reading plan, prayers for private devotions, most of the Psalms, the Small Catechism (which summarizes what our church believes), and orders for prayer as individuals or groups.  It truly is an all-in-one worship and devotional resource for church and home.  If you open this book to page 184, you will find today’s order of service.  The pattern of worship we follow is called the “Divine Service,” and it can be  done with different musical versions.  These different versions are called “settings,” and the setting we are using today is “Divine Service 3.”  This is the old, familiar, and sentimental version that many in our parish grew up with and  dates back almost 150 years.  You will notice many of the things being sung have Latin names, such as the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.  Printed right alongside is musical notation to show us how they are sung.  Don’t read music?  No problem!  Just follow the words, and let the sound of the choir, pastor, and organ lead you through the different parts of the liturgy.  Don’t worry, you don’t even have to sing it if you’re not comfortable.  The important thing is that we pray these words.  A wise old man once said “He who sings prays twice.”  The reason we sing all these different songs together is so that we can pray with one voice as a way to worship God when we gather to hear his Word and receive the Sacraments.  These ancient prayers, some dating to before Christ even, have been prayed by the church together for centuries as a way of simultaneously expressing what we believe about God and helping us to form those convictions more strongly over time as we pray them.  You will find that the God we pray to is one who is glorious and holy, yet he loves to show mercy and take away the sin of the world.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Speak, Friend, and Enter

Why do we sing/say the “Introit?”  What is that anyways?

     “Introit” comes from the Latin word for “he enters in.”  Originally this began the service, back when confession was said privately the night before.  As the minister and assistants entered, a portion of the Psalms was chanted back and forth, so it functioned as a processional hymn.  Bar-lines in music had not been invented yet, so they didn’t have hymns with a pulse and beat the way that we sing them today.  The advantage of this, of course, was that where churches sing with chanting, they can simply sing the words of Scripture straight from the Bible.  Hymns require a bit of paraphrase and interpretation of God’s thoughts, at the very least.  When the introit is chanted, it can often have a repeated refrain, called an “antiphon.” The psalm verses sung in the introit are a part of the “proper” of the service.  The elements of the worship service fall into two categories:  the “proper” and the “ordinary.”  The “ordinary” are things that ordinarily happen every Sunday, such as the creed, the Agnus Dei, the Lord’s prayer, and such.  The “proper” refers to those things that change from week to week, of which the most important parts are the scripture readings.  So in addition to the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings, and the Psalm that is sung, the “Introit” sort of functions like an honorary “fifth reading” at the beginning of the service.  It’s purpose is to set the tone of the service and introduce some of the major themes of the day.  Today it is popular to use a processional hymn in place of the introit since it does and accomplishes about the same thing (and is easier to walk down the aisle to).  However, the introit can also be read responsively as a call to worship:  God calls us with His words, and we respond with praise.  
From the Large Catechism:  For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own work. From this fact every one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work greater than the work of God can we do?  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Church as an Army

Why do we march in and out during the first and last hymns?
What is the point of a “processional” hymn?

     Aside from signaling the “official” beginning beginning of the worship service, uniting our voices in song, and directing our attention to the common activity of the assembly, the march in and out (along with many other movements in the service) symbolically represent many different things.  In ancient times, an army would march under a flag to identify which side they were on.  This flag, called a “standard,” was often modeled after the royal banners of their king.  The cross, being the symbol of our King, is the standard of the church militant.  So as it is followed into the chancel for worship, we declare the kingdom of Christ to be our loyalty and confess that we are at war with the kingdom of darkness.  As the cross recesses out of the church at the end of the service, this symbolizes that we are following Christ out into the world to be his servants and soldiers.  There are important two-fold distinctions in the church.  The first is the difference between the church militant (those on earth, still fighting against the spiritual forces of evil) and the church triumphant (those in heaven, whose rest is won).  In the church militant, our lives revolve around a two-fold pattern of gathering and dispersing.  We, as baptized believers, are the church all throughout the week, but one thing the church does is gather weekly around the Word and Sacraments to be nourished by the gifts of God, because Christ is present with us here together in a special way distinct from how he is with us individually throughout the week.  This feeds and strengthens us as we continue to fight the good fight.  After this, we are scattered back out into world, going in the peace of the Lord to  serve Him.  The processional and recessional hymns signify these two stages of the church’s life on earth.  Now, can you count how many hymns I’ve alluded to in the previous paragraph?  

From the Augsburg Confession:  Article IV:  Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins.  This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Every Sunday Has It's Parade

Why do we sing a “processional hymn?"
What is the point of all this theatrical movement in worship?

Psalm 100 says “I will enter his courts with praise.”  We recognize that, as Christ has promised to always be present when we gather in His name, our coming together for worship is an entering into the presence of God in a special way that is mysteriously different from the way in which He is always with us individually.  And thus, we sing to God as we gather together, and as the cross processes, it reminds us of the presence of Christ, which is always among his gathered people.  The processional hymn unifies us for worship and signifies the “official” beginning of the worship service, even though we have already invoked the name of the Trinity, confessed our sins, and received the words of God’s forgiveness.  The confession itself has never been considered a part of the worship service.  Indeed, prior to the Reformation, it wasn’t included on Sundays.  Instead, the faithful were expected to go to private confession on Saturday, and somehow keep from sinning until Sunday morning in order to receive the Sacrament in a “state of grace.”  As Lutherans, we recognize that this isn’t possible anyways, ‘cause sinners gonna sin.  So although our churches still maintain the practice of private confession, we revisit it as a congregation on Sunday mornings to sort of “wipe our feet at the door” as we enter to worship.  The invocation reminds us whose we are, the confession reminds us who we were (condemned sinners), and the absolution declares the Gospel to us.  This establishes our identity as a congregation, and we assemble based on this to worship, unified in our singing.  In our church, songs sung before the invocation and confession are considered “pre-service singing,” because we recognize that our purpose for gathering has not yet been formally declared.  Next week we will discuss the significance of physical movement in worship. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

"I Forgive You...?"

Why does the Pastor say “I forgive you your sins?” Who does he think he is?

In Mark 2:7, the teachers of the Law rightly ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Only God has the authority to give this forgiveness.  What they missed was that Jesus is God, but let us not forget that Jesus is also man.  Because of this (the incarnation), we see that God is able to exercise His authority to forgive sins through human agency.  In the Scriptures, God gives His forgiveness through the means of an actual human person speaking audible words.  In 2 Samuel 12:13, the prophet Nathan declares to David that his sins of adultery and murder are forgiven.  In John 20:22-23, Jesus gives to His disciples the authority to forgive sins.  Why would Jesus give this authority to other men?  So that we can actually hear Christ’s words of forgiveness spoken to us, and not just read or think them.  A spoken word comes to us from outside of us; this gives us the assurance that our promise of forgiveness is not a vain hope, misguided feeling, or figment of our imagination.  Christ has sent (Apostl-ed) His ministers into the world to disperse His forgiveness far and wide, in order that you may receive it.  The Absolution spoken to us by the Pastor is simply a declaration that we have been forgiven through Christ.  However, this declaration also does what it says.  For example, at a wedding, a Pastor might say, “By the authority vested in my by the state of New York, I now pronounce you man and wife.”  Legally, this pronouncement actually makes the couple a wedded family; it’s called “performative speech.”  In the same way, God’s pronouncement of forgiveness, to you, through your pastor, actually gives the forgiveness it declares.  God has given his church the authority, responsibility, and mission to bring God’s forgiveness to a hurting world, and thus it is by His authority that a Pastor says “I forgive you.”  How can we be sure these words work?  What if I don’t feel forgiven?  Believe the words that Jesus says in Matthew 18:18, and Luke 10:16.  The gift of forgiving sins, which is the “keys to the kingdom” (i.e. having our sins forgiven brings God’s kingdom to us), is given to the Church at large, and not just the pastors.  However, when a congregation calls a Pastor to exercise Word and Sacrament ministry publicly on their behalf, we give him the responsibility, through Christ’s authority, to be Christ’s representative (symbolic) in this matter.  So why does a Pastor say “I forgive you?”  Because Jesus told him to, and we asked him to.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Daily And Richly

Why does the Pastor forgive our sins?  What is absolution?

Because that is his job.  A pastor, as a minister of the Gospel, is responsible to proclaim forgiveness full and free for repentant sinners because of Jesus.  The pastor does not have the right to deny forgiveness to those who confess and repent of their sins.  To not proclaim this forgiveness after we have all confessed our sin is to deny it by omission.  It does us no good to admit we are sinners and in need of grace if there is no grace for us to receive.  The forgiveness given to us by the Pastor completes this introductory rite to worship by giving us a profound picture of Christian faith:  Man is a sinner (the Law), but Christ is our Savior (the Gospel).  Our hearts are so prone to forget this and get back on the treadmill of trying to please God and earn his favor that is crucial to have this reminder at the beginning of every worship service that forgiveness is both full and free in Christ.  Everything we do in worship confesses something.  The confession of sin is where we admit our (ongoing) need for Christ and His grace, and in the absolution, the Pastor confesses the goodness of God in delighting to show mercy, assuring us that the “broken and contrite heart I will not cast out.”  The absolution is given for the comfort of sinners burdened with a guilty conscience.  This ought to include all Christians, if they believe the words of God’s law and understand how far we fall short of the life that God calls us to live.  We like to talk about our “personal relationship with God,” but we must always remember that healthy relationships are impossible without forgiveness.  When we fail to fear, love, and trust in God as we ought, this is an expression of unbelief.  Since faith is the foundation of our relationship with God, we need to have this doubt between us dealt with.  When we are absolved of our sins, God is proclaiming that our unbelief does not stand in the way of His unconditional love for us, in order that our faith might be strengthened.  We will explore Absolution and the Pastor’s role in it more next week.

From the Small Catechism:  On the Third Article of the Creed:  I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.