Same Liturgies, Different Year

The next three Sundays at Bethlehem are festivals that are always celebrated on the next-to-last Sunday in October (Confirmation Sunday), the last Sunday in October (Reformation Sunday), and the first Sunday in November (All Saints Sunday).  Some parishes celebrate Confirmation on Pentecost, but that day is so full that the significance of Affirmation of Baptism gets lost.

So this Sunday we will celebrate with several young people as they claim this faith for themselves.  Our youth director has had two or three members of each class preach on this day for many years; this year we’ll hear from three of these remarkable people.  They never fail to amaze me.

Reformation marks the anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg in 1517 on All Hallows’ Eve (October 31st), which (unbeknownst to him) started the Protestant Reformation.

All Saints’ Day, which is actually November 1st, is a day of remembrance of “…all the saints, who from their labors rest” as the great Ralph Vaughan Williams hymn declares.

We don’t change much at all in these liturgies from year to year.  There is a remarkable concentration of the continuum of human existence in these three Sundays, and we’ve found that minimal changes help the assembly to see that pattern.  And interestingly, the pattern moves backwards.

This Sunday, for Confirmation, we see the present/future of the church.  We are reminded that God is indeed still speaking, and in concrete terms.  I see a lot of trust in the day.  Parents have trusted the church to teach their kids, the church has trusted the parents in turn to be a part of that process, and now we pass that trust to these young people – we trust them to fulfill their affirmation “to live among God’s faithful people; to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper; to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; to serve all people, following the example of Jesus; and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”  And one of the best parts of the day is that sitting in the pews will be many of their peers, who have already made this affirmation over the past few years – waiting to affirm their support for their friends.  They understand so completely, so deeply what it means to be the “beloved community.”

On Reformation, we see an intersection of the past, present, and future.  Ecclesia semper reformanda est is the classic phrase – “the church is always being reformed.”  While we are thankful for the events in the 16th century that led to reform, we keep our focus on Christ – “solus Christus”, one of the five “solae” of the Reformation.  The others are sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, and soli Deo gloria.  More on that in another post, another day.

Every year, the second lesson on Reformation is taken from Romans 3 – “for we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  This was the breakthrough text for Luther.  We use a mixture of old and new music, a variety of styles of liturgy, in order to reflect the semper part of that phrase – ALWAYS.  This year, the ELCA’s 25th anniversary motto undergirds this too:  Always Being Made New.

All Saints’ Sunday brings this sequence full circle:  we now look to the past.  The near past, the distant past, the ANCIENT past.  Individual saints have their own feast days, but All Saints is the day we remember them all, together with those we’ve known who have died.  This is a day when we will hear about “the communion of saints” in more than just the creed.

John Buchanan, editor and publisher of The Christian Century magazine, suggests a great image for the communion of saints:  “balcony people.”  People who have helped form your life and faith, be they known to you (a grandparent, perhaps) or unknown (possibly St. Catherine of Siena).  Think of the State of the Union address each January – the President’s invited guests are sitting in the balcony with the First Lady, and the President highlights their stories in the address.  Think of yourself in such a position, looking up to the balcony to acknowledge and give thanks to YOUR “balcony people.”  Who might they be?

And then think of all those balcony people – yours and everyone else’s – seated at an endless banquet table.  The Feast to Come.  The Communion of Saints.

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host

Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

(“For All the Saints”, text, William W. How, 1823-1897)

So within the ancient form of worship, surrounded by ancient words as well as words of today, these three Sundays place us firmly in our present, yet with a part of us grasping the past and the future at the same time.  Alleluia indeed!

Go in peace. DO SOMETHING!

When my colleagues and I were in Chicago in 2006 for training on introducing the new hymnal (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, ELW) we brought back this riff on the dismissal as one of our favorite things.  One of the presenters said that these words were the impetus behind the many options that we have for the final words of dismissal in the sending rite:  “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.”  “Go in peace. Remember the poor.”  And so on.

The Send part of our liturgy, also known as the sending rite, contains very few elements:  the Sending of Communion (sending communion ministers to take the Sacrament to those who are homebound), a Blessing (also known as a benediction), a Sending Song, and the Dismissal, as above.

ELW also suggests doing announcements at this point in the service, as symbolic of our taking Christ’s mission into the world.  Announcements are a tricky thing.  If you put them at the beginning, those who are late might miss them.  At the end, is anyone listening?  If you put them after the Peace and before the Offering, all the focus on God is lost.

Speaking as someone who’s both made announcements and listened to them, the length can get out of hand fast.  We decided a long time ago that whoever is the presiding pastor has the final say as to what gets announced and by whom.  They’re all in the bulletin insert anyway – we print them on a different color paper so they are easily pulled out to take home.

The matriarch of our community, who died this past July, had a practice with the bulletin insert and announcements that bears repeating.  She took them home every week and put them on her refrigerator, and she would take time daily to “pray the announcements.”  For each person, each ministry, each upcoming activity on that insert, she would be in prayer.  What a gift that was to us!

Back to the Sending of Communion.  This is a practice that dates back to the earliest days of the church, and is recorded in the First Apology of Justin Martyr, a second century Christian philosopher:

“A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.”

The “deacons” in the Apology are not ordained people, but rather persons who have been commissioned for service by the community.  Many parish communities throughout Christianity do likewise today.  If a parish has a Stephen Ministry team, they may be the ones sent with the consecrated elements.  The “sending” is intended to be used if a group of people will be carrying out this ministry through the week.  Obviously there is an organizational element to this too, but it can be very meaningful for the one receiving this ministry – knowing that they are receiving a portion of that which the community shared.

The Blessing is a pronouncement of God’s blessing on the assembly.  The Sending Song might be a more generic end-of-worship song, such as “On Our Way Rejoicing” (ELW 537) or it might be very specific to the season, such as “Joy To The World” (ELW 267) during Christmas.  At Bethlehem, during Advent we have what we call a “seated postlude” between the Sending Song and the Dismissal.  We started doing this many years ago as something of an antidote to the holiday frenzy, and now it has become an important part of the season.  Music is offered that either expresses our longing for the Christ child, or provides a quiet meditation.

And finally, we come to the Dismissal.  When in Chicago we said “Go in peace. DO SOMETHING!” we weren’t trying to be contrary – that really is the essence of the Sending rite.  The rubric, or instruction, for the dismissal reads:  “The assisting minister may send the assembly into mission.”  It DOESN’T read, “The assisting minister dismisses the congregation.”  The idea of “do something” as the dismissal, however, should be clarified.  It’s not a command in the sense that “doing something” is a requirement for continued participation in the body of Christ.  Rather, it’s our response to the lavish, freely-given love and grace of God made manifest in Jesus.  In thanksgiving for God’s saving grace, we in turn “do something” (serve the Lord, remember the poor, etc.) for the life of the world and for the sake of the gospel.  The Dismissal isn’t meant to simply send us outside to have coffee, but rather to send us into service in the world, knowing that Christ is with us.

However, because we are Lutheran, there IS coffee after church.  This is most certainly true.

The Feast of Life

The third section of our worship is the Meal – the Feast of Life.  There are more metaphors and allegories for the Meal than I could possibly name.  The primary one is Eucharist, which means thanksgiving.  The Feast of Life is a lyric from Marty Haugen’s song “Within the Reign of God” and it makes reference to Jesus as living bread.

For Lutherans, the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) is one of two sacraments (physical sign of an unseen promise), the other being Baptism.  In the Eucharist, Lutherans recall the saving acts of God through Word, bread and wine, and are connected with Christ and with Christians of all times and places.  In this sacrament we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ.  An explanation of that is for another blog post.  Or maybe another ten blog posts!

The “Meal” begins with collecting an offering for the work of the church.  When I am cantoring, this is where I will offer music that expands on the readings or something in the sermon.  In a formal liturgy – for example, on a festival day – when the collection is brought forward, the gifts for the table would be brought forward as well – bread and wine.  During the fall, we sing a response as the gifts are brought to the front (“Through bread and wine refresh us, that we may be filled with love”).  Our prayer over the gifts is one from the organization Bread for the World ( and is one of my favorites. “Open our eyes, ears, and hearts to hear and see you already at work in the world.”

The prayer structure that follows is complex and has several sections; collectively it is called the “Great Thanksgiving”.  For our liturgy this fall, we include the Dialogue (“The Lord be with you…”), the Preface (“It is indeed right…”) and then a setting of the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy Lord. God of power and might…”) by Ray Makeever.

After the Sanctus we move to the Eucharistic Prayer.  In its fullest form this recalls aspects of God’s salvation of God’s people throughout time.  For the fall, we are using a simpler version that calls to mind Jesus’ love for us all.  The Words of Institution are the one part of the whole rite that really must be included – they are taken directly from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and constitute the consecration of the elements of bread and wine.  From The Use of The Means of Grace, the ELCA’s statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament:

“43.  The biblical words of institution declare God’s action and invitation.  They are set within the context of the Great Thanksgiving.  This eucharistic prayer proclaims and celebrates the gracious work of God in creation, redemption, and sanctification.”

The prayer is concluded by the entire assembly praying the Lord’s Prayer together.  We use the King James translation of that prayer, which is set out in Matthew 6:9-13.

As communion is distributed, we sing a modern, jazzy setting of the Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God.  This is the traditional text for the breaking of bread at Eucharist, and is found in John 1:29.  We may follow this with hymns or instrumental music.  Our prayer after communion gives us words to thank God for the meal, “bread for the journey,” and to commit to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.  Again from The Use of The Means of Grace:

“54.  As a means of grace Holy Communion is that messianic banquet at which God bestows mercy and forgiveness, creates and strengthens faith for our daily work and ministry in the world, draws us to long for the day of God’s manifest justice in all the world, and provides a sure and certain hope of the coming resurrection to eternal life.”

Eucharist is the foretaste of the feast to come that we hear described in Isaiah 25:6-8:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.”

As some of you know, my husband Michael died in April of 2012 after a long battle with cancer.  Late in the evening of the day he died, I sent an email to a large list of family and friends to let them know he was with God.  One of my colleagues sent me this reply:

“At 11:37 a.m. yesterday we were gathered around the Lord’s Table.  Michael would just have been welcomed to the far side of the table (as I think of it) as we received Christ’s body and blood.  An honor we did not know we were accorded.”

The table of the Lord unites people of all times and places.  Christ invites us all to that table.

As they say in Italy: “Mangia, mangia!”  Come and eat!

Fall worship at Bethlehem

Those of you who worship at Bethlehem Lutheran in Encinitas may have noticed that we don’t do the same thing week after week after week.  Most of you have said you PREFER it that way!

Our basic approach is to craft liturgy (from the Greek leitourgia meaning “work of the people”) for each season of the church year in such a way as to best enable the prayer of the congregation, or assembly.  Sounds lofty, right?  What we do is examine each element of the four parts of the service, or ordo. Those four parts are Gather – Word – Meal – Send.  We gather as the people of God, to hear the Word, share in the Meal, and finally to be Sent into the world to serve.

Each of the four parts has “sub-parts” that may or may not be included in a particular season.  For Fall 2013, we’re going to use the ordo I prepared for last fall’s worship.  This week I’ll examine the “Gather” portion of the ordo.

If you have a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (our ELCA hymnal) you can find the ordo outline on pages 92-93.  Under the “Gathering” heading you find the following options:

Confession and Forgiveness OR Thanksgiving for Baptism

Gathering Song, which can incorporate a Hymn or Psalm, Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy”) and/or a Canticle of Praise (“Glory to God” or “This is the Feast”)


Prayer of the Day

Of these elements, the only two that are considered central are the Greeting and the Prayer of the Day.  In the Anglican tradition the Prayer of the Day is known as the “Collect” because it aspires to collect the thoughts and prayers of the assembly into one prayer which the presider (the pastor leading the service) prays.

Does that mean the other elements don’t matter?  That depends on the context.  At Bethlehem, we sing particularly well, and so we almost always involve music in the Gathering rite.  For the fall, we will use a crafting of the Confession and Forgiveness that utilizes the spoken word as well as a sung refrain – “Wind of the Spirit” which comes to us from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.

When I’m searching for text to use in worship, I have a number of resources from all over the world that I examine, both online and in print.  Between Pastor Laura and myself, we are responsible for making sure that the texts we use (as well as the songs we sing) accurately and truthfully reflect our Lutheran theology of the cross.

So for fall, our confessional text is:

“We confess that we are captive to doubt and fear, bound by the ways that lead to death.  We have not loved our sisters and brothers as you have first loved us.  Forgive us, God of mercy.  Let your Holy Spirit work in us to change our lives and make us new, that we may know the abundant life given in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.  Amen.”

“Let your Holy Spirit work in us” ties the refrain “Wind of the Spirit” to what we’re saying.

Confession in our Lutheran tradition is followed by Forgiveness, usually spoken by the presider:

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent the Son to atone for our sins.  In the name of + Jesus Christ, I announce to you that your sins are forgiven.  Let the perfect love of God cast out fear, fill you with joy, and inspire you to live for others.”

The last sentence of the forgiveness (or absolution) is an invitation to enter into worship knowing that you are loved by God and welcome in this place.

Our Gathering Song will change from week to week, and it will reflect either a particular lesson or festival.  For example, this fall we’ll be highlighting different areas of ministry each Sunday; one of the Ministry areas this Sunday is music.  So the gathering song will be “When in Our Music God Is Glorified” (ELW #851), a great hymn text by the English hymn writer Fred Pratt Green.  It is paired with the hymn tune ENGELBERG, known to us as “We Know That Christ is Raised and Dies No More.”  A sample of the text:

“So has the church, in liturgy and song/in faith and love, through centuries of wrong/borne witness to the truth in ev’ry tongue: Alleluia!”

That will be followed with a greeting we use throughout the season, that uses the Trinitarian formula (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) to gather us.  The Prayer of the Day changes weekly and echoes the themes laid out in the lessons.

One of the trickiest parts of mapping out the Gathering Rite is that it can get bloated VERY quickly.  So at the beginning of each season, we are attentive to how it flows, and we make adjustments from week to week if necessary.  The “heart of the matter” in Lutheran liturgy is Word and Sacrament, and we try to avoid overloading the Gathering Rite so as not to pull focus from that heart.

Next week, I’ll look more closely at the Word portion of the service.  Remember, if you have questions or comments (including after Sunday’s worship) please post them below!

-Soli Deo gloria-

I wonder why we do that…..

In the past, I’ve been told “you should write a blog about worship!”

Sounds great!  The only problem was that my first thought – writing a blog for worship planners – was kind of been-there-done-that.  There’s a LOT of blogs out there for worship planners!

But then I thought it might be more fun to create a blog that explains Lutheran worship for people in the pew.  For my congregation.  For other folks in my synod (and beyond!).  I’ve been in this racket for a long time, and it’s always held true that when a congregation knows WHAT they are doing and WHY they are doing it, the very nature of their worship changes.

So I will strive each week to provide some of the “back story” behind the worship I prepare each week with my colleagues at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Encinitas, California, as well as with my colleagues for the Pacifica Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  I might outline how we arrived at a particular liturgical ordo (order of worship) for a season or event, or I might relate a hymn story.  I may do a little catechesis too, so you can discover where a particular part of the rite comes from or what its Scriptural basis is.

I’ve just started my seminary training online for a Master’s in Theological Studies at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA.  I’m sure that as I dive into my classes I’ll be learning a lot of things and will probably have some preconceived notions challenged.  (I understand that is one of the primary goals of seminary!)  I’m also brand-new at the whole blog thing so hopefully I’ll figure that out too.

So welcome!  Pull up a chair, grab your favorite beverage, and if you have thoughts or comments, please do join the conversation.