Creation & Worship
My Alma Mater, Concordia - St. Louis, seems to go through theological vogues. For quite a long while it was Two Kinds of Righteousness. One could step on to campus and find people saying "2KR" without a trace of irony as if Christians had always been using such an abbreviation for all of time, as if anyone who hadn't been attending class there in the previous five years would have any idea what they were speaking about, as if Luther himself defended SBGATFA all the time when he debated Eck.
The latest theological framework to be en vogue at CSL is this business about Creation. I'm finally catching up on reading through the Summer 2010 issue of Concordia Journal which includes a succinct manifesto on the topic of "Caring for God's Groaning Earth" from the faculty member who seems to be driving force behind the latest vogue: Dr. Charles P. Arand, the Chairman of the Systematics Department.
I had the pleasure of taking several classes from Dr. Arand during my time at St. Louis. He is a very learned man and a capable teacher. His name will live on for decades, if not centuries, for the work he did in helping the Kolb-Wengert edition of the Book of Concord to become a reality. He is especially well versed in the Apology and the theology of Melanchthon. As the chair of the department, Dr. Arand deserves special thanks for the 2007 statement against lay ministry issues by the systematics faculties of both seminaries.
As I said, the essay is succinct and will not take you long to read, and I encourage you to do so. Here I want to simply mention one thing I have found oddly missing in Dr. Arand's discussions of Creation and then reflect a bit on what Dr. Arand had to say about worship and creation.
First, the odd omission - in speaking of Creation I have yet to read Dr. Arand contend with, well, creation. It would seem to me that a uniquely Christian understanding of how we relate to Creation ought to include quite a lot of reflection on our belief that God created the world ex nihilo in six days. Surely, given this teaching, our way of caring for God's creation will differ from those who either believe the world is an accident or those Christians who reject a literal understanding of Genesis. I would very much like to hear Dr. Arand reflect on those differences.
Second, Dr. Arand says this about worship,
Where does creation find expression within the worship life of the church and its liturgy? Consider the church year. Where does creation receive attention? Currently, the first half of our church year rightly focuses on the life of Jesus. The second half of the church year focuses on the life of the church. These correlate with the second and third articles of the creed. But where does the first article of the creed (God's ongoing activity in creation) find a place within the church year? After all, without it we cannot properly grasp Scripture's account of redemption in Christ. We wouldn't have to call it "Earth Sunday." We could call it "Creation Sunday" or have a "Season of Creation." For that matter, how do our worship practices and rituals express our connection to creation as well as our care of creation? After all, practices often embody our values and our visions about what it means to live a fully human life.
Where to begin? The creation story is read out in its entirety at least twice every year in a Lutheran congregation that follows the Historic Lectionary (Trinity XXI and Easter Vigil). The lectionary also includes Jesus' command to preach to all creation in Mark 16 at the Ascension of Our Lord. Paul speaks of the renewal of creation in Romans 8 on Epiphany 4. We could go on and on. Read a little Francis of Assisi - he did alright on these topics without "Creation Sunday." The propensity of would-be contemporary liturgists to smack a "Concordia Sunday" here and an "LWML Sunday" there shows a lack both of imagination and understanding of the richness of the traditional lectionary.
What rituals show our connection to creation? How about The Rituals: the sacraments. Water, bread, wine, and the hands and voice of a man created in God's image and sent out to be an icon of the Christ who became a part of our creation specifically by becoming a Man.
Especially in the Lord's Supper do we find more than enough fodder for a proper Christian reflection on our connection to Nature. (The following observation is not original to me - but for the life of me I cannot find the essay where I learned it. I am pretty sure it is CS Lewis - if someone can find it, I'll be much obliged.) Jesus takes bread and wine and says them into being his Body and Blood. He does not use wheat and grapes. That is, bread and wine are techne, technology, the superadded work of men to the works of nature. Nature, you see, is not enough. Nature, devoid of her Lord, mankind, and devoid of some Word from the Lord is a closed book. Taking a bath isn't enough - without the Word of God it is plain water and no Baptism. Wheat isn't enough - some man must first grind it, some woman knead it and bake it. Grapes aren't enough - the stompers must stomp and the vintner add his yeast and mix it all in the right way, and store it in the right way, and only then can it be used by Jesus for his Supper. And the Word of Absolution must be spoken into reality by the vocal chords of a Son of Adam bending the air around him into the vibrating messenger of grace.
There is nothing deficient in the Church's liturgy and lectionary - no topic the Church has left out - no need for innovations to cover supposed lacunae. Here you will find the whole counsel of God presented to the people of God year in and year out. All it requires of the preacher/celebrant is the humility to learn from it and the imagination to hear it clearly. These are both gained by reading at least as much Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, and Chemnitz as Wendell Berry and Dave Bookless. And, hey, I like Wendell Berry.