Come and See

I’m in Palm Desert, CA. this week with my colleagues, at the Professional Leaders’ Conference of the Pacifica Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  We’ve been coming out to the desert for over two decades each fall for a time of worship, learning, and fellowship.  I wanted to share some reflections on what we have shared this week through the lens of worship.

Our plenary speakers this year are the Rev. Susan Briehl, renowned ELCA theologian and liturgical specialist, and the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA (the synod to our north).  Our theme is “Congregations at the Crossroad” and we have been talking about what that means, in all facets of congregational life.

So many times our congregations find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to worship.  The question might seem to be a big one – concerning what lessons to read, perhaps – or it might seem to be a relatively small one, such as what variety of wine to use for communion.  The ELCA introduced a new hymnal in 2006, and that was a major crossroads for everyone.

Susan Briehl pointed out to us that Jesus’ first public words in the gospel of John are “what are you looking for?”  They are repeated in the garden after the resurrection, to Mary Magdalene.  These words put everyone who encounters them at a crossroads, forcing the questions “what is missing for you?  What is at the heart of your need?  What do you need for life abundant?”

In his answer, Jesus invites – “come and see” – and this becomes a leitmotif throughout John’s gospel.  “Come and see” is uttered by Philip to Nathaniel, and by the woman at the well.  (We also hear it from Martha and Mary after Lazarus’ death, albeit in a different way: Jesus, you need to come and see what it’s like to deal with this pain.)

This “crossroads by invitation” is really where we should find ourselves every Sunday – asking and hearing the question “what are you looking for?” as well as hearing and proclaiming “come and see.”

Bishop Erwin – a noted Luther scholar – talked about aspects of a community that just about anyone would be eager to “come and see”:

  • Christianity that one need not be ashamed of – intellectual respectability, social responsibility, aesthetic value, community
  • Idea of participating in something bigger than ourselves, better than our everyday lives
  • A critical tradition –a profound and often overlooked legacy
  • Unapologetically church
  • A sacramental faith, a “real presence” – different from everything else

What do we seek?  Over and over, those of us in leadership hear that people are seeking some kind of connection and community, though they are at the same time apprehensive of community.  We seek connections that are profound yet meaningful, freely offered and non-coercive.  We are looking for Jesus as experienced in the believing and beloved community.

What would that believing and beloved community look like?  Bishop Erwin suggested it would include a sense of the sacred and sacramental, it would be a forgiving place where we wrestle together with complex things, where we would be organized for growth in mission to the community and in humility, and finally, it would be a home – a place where we belong.

What are you looking for?

Come and see.

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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 (http://www.bread.org/) 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”)

Greeting

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.