Matthew 28: 16-20
Wednesday in Lent - Week 4
March 30, 2022
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let's review the four fold ordo: Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. Worship begins with us GATHERING together from all different backgrounds, creeds, and classes, and races to worship God, we then ALL actively participate in proclaiming and responding to the WORD of God, we are then fed physically in a MEAL on the Word made flesh where behold our salvation and forgiveness of sin, so that we can be sent out into the church in the world. The sending part of the liturgy is no less important than the gathering, word, or meal section. Though, it is often just seen as that last thing on the checklist for worship. One more step and then we are home free.
Now, I got to be honest with you and I know this is going to sound a bit self serving, but I am your pastor. You need to hear the truth. If you treat worship like it is just something to check off the list, then worship is not really worship and you are here for all the wrong reason. Worship becomes a work then and Martin Luther has a lot to say about works righteousness. If you are coming simply because you feel like you have to come out of obligation to someone or something, that is not worship either. You will never experience the joy that worship brings to us. Worship is a gift. It is something that God gives us so that we can experience a glimmer of the future kingdom that awaits us. Worship is a gift. What we do in this space is a gift from God. What we do in worship ties us to our past, present, and future realities. It is a gift and should not be treated as just something we check off each week.
Worship is more than just good music. If you are cutting parts of the liturgy because it is running too long but refuse to cut any special music, then worship is a concert. Listen, Covid forced us to redo parts of our liturgy in-order to gather safely and as this pandemic evolves, so will our worship and what we can do. Worship is still worship without the kyrie or hymn of praise. It is good, right and salutary to have these elements, but it is not necessary. What is truly necessary for worship is the word of God. You can't have worship without the word. The Word of God is what inspires us, feeds us so that, we can go out into the world. The whole point of worship is to prepare us for this moment: To be sent out.
Now, if you think I am too Catholic, this next part might make you think I have lost my Lutheran card completely, but hear me out (and know everything I am about to say has footnotes to Lutheran sources). Lutherans have a hard time with naming what we do here. In the LCMS hymnal, worship is called "The Divine Liturgy." The LBW and ELW kept it simple - Holy Communion Setting 1. Rarely do we call worship - the Mass because that is too Catholic, right. I have had Lutherans come at me when I call worship the mass. "We don't do that here. Don't call our worship the Mass. We aren't Catholic." These same people also tell me every time they go to a catholic funeral that they do everything we do. A little Etymology on the word Mass shows us that "the English noun mass is derived from the Middle Latin missa which is translated as dismissal." Lutheranns have been referring to worship as the mass as far back as the Augsburg Confession (Article 14 titled Concerning the Mass). Melancthon writes in the first few sentences:
In fact, the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all the customary ceremonies are also retained, except that German hymns, added for the instruction of the people, are interspersed here and there among the Latin ones. For ceremonies are especially needed in order to teach those who are ignorant.
The Mass is maintain...Melancthon and the other reformers were clear that what they were doing in worship was no different than what has been done for centuries. The only reason Lutherans moved away from this language was the anti-Catholicism movement that moved through America and the Lutheran church. What we do here on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, regardless of the style of the music, is the mass because the goal of worship is to prepare us for being sent out, dismissed, "Go in peace & serve the Lord."
And how is that accomplished? We are first blessed with the words of either the Trinity or the words that Aaron used to bless the nation of Israel found in Numbers 6. We then sing a hymn. Remember hymns help us remember and retain different themes and messages of the day. While the first and last hymn do not always have be thematic, sometimes it is good to have one more reminder about the propers of the day. After the hymn, we get the dismissal which is the whole point. Go in peace. Serve the Lord. The last thing that you say is the whole reason that you are here in the first place…to get out. The ELW added a number of other options for the dismissal, which I like. Share the good news. Remember the poor. Christ is with you. Our mission lies in going out into the world strengthen by the word of God and the sacraments, full of hope and of good courage knowing full well even though the world will most likely reject the good news we bring, we have a place where can return to.
This is also good for congregations to remember their mission statement here too. My internship congregation dismissal was always the pastor saying: As we go from this place, let us remember our mission statement. And the congregation would all say: As a people of God, we share Christ's love, grow in faith, and serve others. Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God. The heart and soul reason for our gathering is so that we can be sent out, but how we so quickly forget why we are sent out. How quickly things go back to the way they always are after the final words are sung and said. It is why we do this every, single week.
Some other things happen during the sending too that I think need some clarification. Let's talk about all things candles for a bit. First, the extinguishing of the candles. I feel like an old guy talking. Back in my day, we didn't have these fancy oil candles. You had to light the candles while 100 people were staring at you and waiting for you to knock a candle over and burn the church down. I miss beeswax. I understand why congregations moved away from them. Back in the 90's beeswax skyrocketed and companies like Almy produced these oil candles that seemed like a steal. Now the price of candle oil is high and beeswax has leveled off, but congregations made a major investment into oil candles, many can't go back. The smell of beeswax is wonderful. I don't know if you all could smell them, but us at the altar, I loved that smelled. I miss that smell.
Every congregation I have ever been a part of or served as a pastor has a tradition around lighting the candles and extinguishing them. No two congregations are alike this area. But let me tell you, if you don't do it that way, people go insane. “You have ruined worship.” You didn't bow correctly. No soup for you. You didn't light them in the correct order. No soup for you. You didn't extinguish them the right way. Not only do you get no soup but you made Jesus cry. But you know what each of these worship manuals say about lighting and extinguishing the candles? It just says they need to be done and it is probably best to do them before and after everyone leaves.
Think about the purpose of the candles. Remember, everything we do in worship first began with a practical intention that we theologicalize. They were our original light source. The darker the place, the more candles you lit. Doesn't it make sense to have the lights on before people arrive? And isn't it impolite to turn the lights out on people before they have the chance to leave? And of course there is a debate as to how many candles one needs on the altar. The old tradition is 6 large ones and you only light some for the different kind of mass being celebrated. Again, that tradition doesn't make much sense to me. It looks weird to not have all the lights on. I love old traditions, but sometimes they just don’t make any sense and there is really no sense in continue to do them.
Candelabras are also a bit tricky. Some think you need to light them and extinguish them a certain way. Some think their needs to be a certain number. And they only come out at certain times of the years. Really, it was designed as a way to get more light in the sanctuary for night time services.
Over the years, I have learned that people have some deep, emotional attachments to the candles which is good, and I am glad to see people passionate about things at church. However, let us remember that candles their purpose. Practically, they were the church’s original light source. We keep them, even though we no longer need them for light, as a way to tie us to past. Theologically, they remind us of being the light amid the darkness. Can you have worship without candles? Yup. Do they make worship more special. Of course. Will the church cave in on itself if you forget to light them in a particular way or order? Nope. It is not a bad thing to have a tradition and to do it a certain way, but it does becomes a problem when we use that tradition to hold back God's grace. If you got candles, use them. If you don't, that's okay too. God's Word and presence in the sacrament are enough light for us.
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, and then we sent out into the world with our mission on our tongue so that we can be the church in the world. Gather, word, meal, and sending. Next week, we talk about the weirdest thing of all that we do here at worship--Christmas and Holy Week.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.