Psalm 145: 13-21
Wednesday in Lent - Week 3
March 23, 2022
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I got some beef with the ELW. I mean, that should come as no surprise to anyone...Pastor Matt is grumpy and cranky. The four fold liturgy has been around for a long time and is wildly used and accepted. But the ELW took the four fold liturgy and went, oh how can I put this delicately; legalistic. Everything had to be written with the four fold liturgy in mind which meant, they they changed the prayer offices, services in the occasional service book, and a bunch of other random things that the church has been using for a long time. They also move the sharing of the peace to the word section. Again, for a long, long time—the sharing of the peace has always been associated with the eucharistic. Meaning, if you don't have communion at a service, you don't share the peace because it is irrelevant. We share the peace so that when we come to receive the Lord and for a moment, the community resembles the coming kingdom of God. God’s people gathered with nothing separating us from one another. In the Roman church, many of their Eucharistic prayers has the sharing of the peace embedded into the prayer itself so that you have less of a chance of breaking the peace before receiving. One thing that I think Covid has done well is had us rethink the sharing of the peace. It shouldn't be halftime as Pastor Diane said last week. And quite frankly, I like how we do it now. It is simple, still awkward, but it is real. Instead of focusing on who's hand am I going to shake, we now are able to focus simply on the words.
The ELW also simplified the language because people didn't know what the certain parts of the liturgy meant. Which, when I hear that, I always think about that episode on West Wing...
I feel like if we continue to make church, what is the point in participating? We should come to be challenged. We should question our preconceived beliefs to be questions. This is how we learn, explore and grow in our faith. The thing that I really love about the ELW is our hymnody. I think the ELW made amazing strides to be inclusive and celebrate so many different cultures—not just the Swedish and german cultures of our past. But if we continue to dumb things down and continue to not hold people accountable, continue to lower our expectations, we will make worship irrelevant. We can start through our language around the different different parts of the liturgy. It is not the dialog, it is the Sursum Corda. It is not just the preface, but the proper preface. It is not just the Holy, Holy, Holy but is the Sanctus.
So, let's breakdown some of the things here.
First things first, let's look at the different clothing:
Stole. And there are different ways to wear a stole.
For eucharistic celebrations, a pastor can wear something called a chasuble. We only believe in one celebrant.
All these vestments and things have a point but remember, they originally started out of a necessity. If you have been to Europe and walk through some of the cathedrals there, imagine how cold they were in the winter. Pastors needed to stay warm. There are many who believe that vestments, since they are not biblical, should not be used in worship. However, We didn’t dream up the idea of Vestments. Vestments also date back to the Jewish Temple days. In the presence of God, people dress differently. They also help in hiding the celebrant. Vestments are design to help the celebrant blend into the background. I know, some vestments do make you stand out because they are so ornate and sparkly. But in general, that is one of their functions. The service is not a service we do for God, but is a service that God does for us. When I speak, it is God speaking through me. By blending into the background, the pastor is no longer the focal point of the worship, but the Word of God becomes the focal point. I like knowing that this is not the Matt Day show. This is God's show and this is one of the many reasons I gravitate and wear things like this even when the AC is broke and it is 100 degrees in here.
Now what about the things on the altar. Communion is first and foremost a meal. At its very basic conception, the eucharist was developed as part of a meal that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he was handed over. So, how does one approach a meal at their home? They set the table.
Table Cloth - Fair Linen
Place Mat - Corporal
Notice the corporal has 9 boxes. We will come back to that.
Then you need your cup, plate and napkin: Chalice, paten, and purificator.
Now we have reach the point where modern day churches meet the ancient church. Imagine you are in a cave. Caves are dusty. Dust in Jesus is like a black fly in your chardonnay. So, you need something to cover the chalice to keep the dust, bugs, and whatever else might land into the chalice during communion. You need a lid but remember, this is church and we gotta come up with a different name for the lid/cover. So, we call this the Pall. Now, what is the large piece of cloth we use to put overtop of a casket? A pall too. We call this a pall too because this covers the body and blood of Christ.
Continue in that same vein to keep the dust out, we have more covering: Burse and Veil. The Burse is a fancy purse. You use it to put extra napkins and corporals in because pastors spill stuff. The veil was designed to keep dust and things off the altar ware, but it also has a theological meaning. In John 1, John writes "and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth." Lived among us can also be translated as "Pitched a tent." My brothers and sisters, here is your tent. This is how Jesus, the Word made flesh comes and lives among us.
So, when the time comes and we approach the time of the meal, we say and do certain things.
First we gather the offering. And I am not just talking about the money. Before Covid was a thing, it was good and salutary for a member(s) of the congregation to bring the bread and wine forward and place them on the altar. Because it through the gifts of the people, through the bread and wine, that God will consecrate these gifts so that they become for us the Body and Blood of Christ. This is something I would like to see brought back as we figure out life in this post-covid world because the offering is how we all are involved in the eucharist feast. Remember, this is not just the Matt Day Show. It is God's show and we are all active participants in this blessed musical of worship.
During this time, the table needs to be set because dinner is about to begin. This where those 9 squares come into play.
I set up communion the same way every, single time I preside. Pastor Diane has her own way, but it is the same each time because, I need to worship just like you all need to worship. And I have a very hard time worshiping when I don't know what is coming. I can close my eyes and know when I reach down to grab say the chalice and paten, my hands know where to God. Pianist can do this with middle C. Surgeons have their instruments in a certain order and location. Of course, my way is the right way. :-) At least it is in the manual on the liturgy.
After the offering, we say grace just like we do at home at dinner.
Then we continue to the great Thanksgiving. Which begins with the Sursum Corda.
How you hold your hands is actually prescribed in our manuals on the liturgy. First you begin in the Orans position. Orans means one who is praying or pleading. Then you move your hands up because we called then to lift up our hearts. Then finally the hands move down to folded position because we are moving into the priestly part of Corda that calls us to worship through thanks and praise.
We then move into an extended period of praise of the Father through the proper preface. Proper preface is a combination of two liturgical elements. A proper are all the things in the liturgy that appropriate for the day. Propers comes from the Latin propria, where we get “appropriate”. The Collect, Old testament Lesson, Epistle, Gradual hymn gospel and the preface. So, the preface used is the one that appropriate for the day.
For 400 years, that is where the church stopped and would then move into the Eucharistic prayer. Around the fourth century, the church added the Sanctus which borrows on the vision that Isaiah has of the Seraphs standing before the throne of God, singing, "Holy, holy, holy..." and their heads bowed. Here, it is appropriate to bow ones head because, just like the seraphs, we believe we are in the presence of the almighty and if the highest of the highest, holiest of the holiest of angels bow their heads before God, this mere mortal of a human chooses to bow his head too. It is also good to make the sign of the cross here when it says, blessed it is he. We are blessed because our baptism and that cross reminds us of our baptism. We are the ones who come in the name of the Lord, seeking to be fed and we come because we were claimed by God in the waters of baptism.
Before the 4th century, the church would not have done any of that though and and would have just have used a eucharistic prayer. One such example is the prayer we use at the contemporary service. When we came here, speaking Holy, Holy, Holy didn't feel right at the contemporary. It wasn’t wrong, but we wondered if there might be something different that we could that was both reverent and stayed in line with our Lutheran traditions and confessions. So, we went back to our manuals and rubics and found a eucharistic prayer written Hippolytus of Rome, a late second-early third century bishop. This prayer was developed before the use of a preface and sanctus so the rubics say not to use them. The prayer also has some immense ecumenical significance which is nice to include in our worship today.
So, we move to the eucharistic prayer.
A good eucharistic prayer recalls our past biblical witness, recalls the life of Jesus, and invokes the Holy Spirit often called the epiclesis along with a couple other parts. The only mandatory part of the eucharistic prayer are the Word of Institution. The Word of God must be present in the sacrament otherwise it is just bread and wine. The ordinary remains ordinary. But when the Word of God is present, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
A good way to make me groan during the eucharistic is to break the bread. Remember, we are participants, not actors. We are not recreating the last supper, we are participating in the meal. The only thing a pastor can/should do during this time is make the sign of the cross over the elements either when you get to the words "gave thanks" or at the end of each paragraph. But even then, it is not necessary because the Word of God takes care of it all.
Following the eucharistic prayer, we all join together in the Lord's prayer and then the bread is broken. This is called invitation to communion in the ELW, but it really isn't. It is the fraction sentence...when you fraction off the bread.
The congregation and everyone says or sings the Agnus Dei repeating the words of John the baptist from in the gospel of John because just as John proclaims Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so too, through bread and wine—the body and blood of Christ, we proclaim the same message.
Following all of this and the clearing the table, we come back together for one last thing...the nunc dimittis. I do want to point that this is used by some pastors to say that at this point, Jesus magically leaves the bread and wine and all that remains is just the earthly elements. I don't buy it. The nunc dimittis recalls the words of Simeon as he held the 8 day old Jesus and the joy that Jesus brought to his life. For just as Simeon held the salvation of the world in his hands, so did we. And for that, we sing as Simeon sang.
And this is all to say that this very formal way of worship is good, right and salutary—but it is not the be all to end all. I feel very comfortable leading worship in this way. This is what I was trained to do, what I practice regularly (yes, I come in to the sanctuary and practice all of this), and I still read about 10 years into ministry. But in all of this, the thing that makes worship, WORSHIP is the word of God.
I have led worship around a camp fire where we made bread and then used that same, warm bread for communion. I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and I can promise you I was not this well put together. Instead of smelling of Old Spice Cologne and frankincense, I smelled like a camp fire. But none of that matter because the Word of God was present and that is what sanctified us for worship.
So, let’s review. Worship begins with us gathering together from all different backgrounds, creeds, and classes, and races to worship God, participate in proclaiming the word God and be fed physically on the Word made flesh and behold your salvation, so that we can be the church in the world. But that is a topic for next week.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.