Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Why do we have new hymnals?"

Besides the fact that Mr. Krueger has faithfully given endless hours to repairing our red and blue hymnals, twenty-four years of use has naturally taken its toll. Our congregation was ready to send in reinforcements -- it was only a matter of what would take their place.
The Lutheran Service Book has been ten years in the making, making it the most field-tested hymnal in U.S. history. Many of the hymn tunes that were almost impossible to sing have been exchanged for more singable ones. Much of the traditional language of addressing our Lord using "thee" and "thy" has been restored. The page numbering has become more naturally ordered. And on top of that, more than 100 hymns have been added.
These hymnals are an important addition to the worship life of our congregation, not only for Sunday morning services but also for the devotional life of us as individual Christians and the devotional life of our families.
If the hymnal is to be cherished among us, it must remain an indispensable resource not only in the sanctuary but also the Sunday School room and the youth group room and the Priscilla Circle room and each of our homes -- around the table and upon our children's bedside table.
Listen to the encouraging words of Saint Paul when he writes:
"Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:12-17)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Why is the Gospel being Read in the Midst of the Congregation?"

On Reformation Sunday this year something different happened when it came to the pastor reading the Holy Gospel. Pastor Herman, Bible in hand, followed the processional cross and the altar candles down the center aisle into the center of the congregation. "Why this new Gospel procession?"
Processions into the church and recessions out of the church were observed on special worship days since earliest times. The "mini-parade" with the reading of the Gospel has been documented back to the fifth century. Martin Luther spoke of the importance of recognizing the presence of Jesus Christ in the reading of the holy Gospel. "For the preaching of the Gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him." (Luther's Works 35:121)
As we recognize, by faith, that Christ is present during the service, especially in his words from the Gospel, we are dramatically reminded in the Gospel procession the fact revealed by the Holy Spirit through Saint John the Evangelist: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14a)
Processions get our attention and focus it upon important things: Christ and his Word come to save us. This is why we as a congregation stand in reverence as the words of our Lord are read, either from the lecturn in the front of the church or from the middle aisle in the midst of his baptized people.
In the same way that making the sign of the cross and processions at the beginning and end of the service communicate to little children the festive and grand nature of divine worship, so Gospel processionals are great opportunities for us as a congregation to teach and model Christ's redeeming presence among us through his Word -- his Word with water (Baptism), his Word with bread and wine (the Lord's Supper) and his Word as it comes to us in the reading of the Holy Gospel.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Why is Jesus still on the Cross?"

Over the last several decades, it has become less and less fashionable to have a crucifix in the sanctuary, even in Lutheran congregations. We seem to be more and more embarrassed to have this image among us on any day except Good friday.
When your child asks about images on the processional cross or in the stained glass depicting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the question might come up, "Why is Jesus still on the Cross?" or "Why is Jesus still a baby in the arms of Joseph?"
The Lutheran Reformation affirmed that art and sculpture and images in the church were not to be removed or banned if helpful in pointing us to our Savior and his saving work. God-pleasing images do not go against the Ten Commandments, but were part of the worship life of God's people since the days of the Exodus.
Picturing Jesus on a cross is not confessing that Jesus is still on the cross, just as picturing Jesus in the manger is not confessing that Jesus is still a baby.
When it comes to our salvation and Jesus' ministry on earth, his sacrifice on Good Friday is the center-point around which everything else must turn. Saint Paul said it best when he wrote, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1Corinthians 2:2)
The images of Jesus in church and in our homes are not magic images to keep away vampires or medallions to keep bad things from happening to us. Just like the Creed, they are a confession of who Jesus is and what he has done in our place. They are indispensable reminders that Jesus is God in the flesh, who alone is our atoning sacrifice and, as such, is our only source of true hope and eternal comfort.

(Please see the Rev. Dr. Stephen Mueller's "The Theology of the Crucifix" in "Let Christ be Christ" - ISBN 0967498902 -- for one of the best presentations on this subject.)