Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

An Example of Reverent Worship and Why It Matters

By Larry Beane

Sometimes there is a tendency for people to miss the point about Gottesdienst.  Some people attack a strawman that Gottesdienst is only about "high" worship practices and that we somehow look down upon those who do not practice "high enough" worship.  This false stereotype was recognized by the Rev. Paul Beisel in his comment in a previous post:
I have never, in all my years as a follower of Gottesdiest, ever heard or read any criticism of a pastor or congregation that does not make full use of the broad array of ceremonial that is at our disposal from historic Lutheranism. I have read a lot of critique of pastors who (1) put forth no effort to model reverence in their conduct of the liturgy and (2) make no effort to learn the whats and the whys of Lutheran ceremonial. I am frankly quite irritated with the caricature that is being put forth of these guys as being obsessed with rubrics for the sake of rubrics, or that they are looking down on their brothers that do not have the same amount of ceremonial as they use.
In fact, Gottesdienst is not about "high church."  Rather it is about "reverence."

One can worship casually, and even disrespectfully, with a full measure of incense and bells and vestments and artwork.  And conversely one can worship reverently in a mud hut or prison cell.  Ceremonies, when done properly and in a dignified manner, are of great help to proclaiming the Gospel that we confess as well as establishing a tone of reverence.  And if a congregation can afford nice things, such as well-made altar linens, beautiful chasubles, a pipe organ, refined acoustics, inspiring artwork, dignified bells, aromatic incense, elegant candlesticks, aesthetically-pleasing altars and fonts and pulpits, etc., these things may well help to foster reverence and a sense of the "otherworldliness" that is the Divine Service of the Church.  The Lord Himself expressed His preference for beauty and dignity in worship (e.g. in the Book of Leviticus).

But even lacking these material things, a pastor can still conduct worship in a reverent manner.  He can still "take pains" to show fear, love, and trust in the Lord by conducting himself liturgically with unapologetic and humble respect for that which is holy.  He can still bow and chant and make the sign of the cross and carry himself with dignity.  The congregation likewise can recognize the miraculous and the supernatural, the real presence of Jesus, in their midst.  And this reverence can even be expressed in a beauty parlor without an organ, with the bare minimum of vestments, and a simple covered table to act as an altar.

The above footage includes parts of the Divine Service as celebrated by Father Vladislav Ivanov and Deacon Victor Shtraube of Holy Spirit congregation (SELC) in Chelyabinsk, Russia.  Holy Spirit rents a hall for services, and on this date, July 18, 2011, they only had access to a beauty parlor.  This was recorded on a pocket video camera by me (my apologies for the quality of the footage).

In order to point the congregation to Christ, the pastor and deacon reverently put a crucifix on the wall, hid the towels that were hung out to dry, carefully set the table with linens, candles, and a cross, placed the sacramental elements on the altar, and the congregation sang the Mass (including the hymns) a cappella. 

The clergy are not eschewing chasuble and dalmatic because they are "too catholic" or to accommodate "the youth" or out of fear of being labeled "high church."  They simply cannot afford them.  They have no objection to "smells and bells" (which are used in other Russian churches) - they simply don't have these things.  But what they do have is faith, and the celebrant and his assistant communicate that faith in their heartfelt reverence, in the way they carry themselves, in their attention to ceremony.

Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Chelyabinsk is a sister congregation to my own.  It was a great joy and privilege to take the holy body and blood of our Lord from the hands of Fr. Vlad and Dcn. Victor, and to participate with Fr. Sergei Glushkov (parish priest of Sts. Peter and Paul in Yekaterinburg, who is the equivalent of our "circuit counselor") and the laity of the congregation in this reverent Divine Service.  Though it was foreign to me linguistically, it was also familiar liturgically.  For Christ was present in Word and Sacrament, and the fact that we were in a beauty salon without icons, without stained glass, and without an organ - did not detract from the reverence of the service.  And there is no requirement that every rubric must be the same the world over.  Though I may conduct certain ceremonies a little differently, the liturgy was clearly Lutheran and clearly focused on Christ.

Reverence is not necessarily "high church."  But by the same token, what does it say about our culture in the LCMS when we have the money and the means to create beautiful sanctuaries but often deliberately choose to worship in spartan surroundings that do not make use of art and beauty to point us to the incarnate Christ?  The saints of Holy Spirit in Chelyabinsk "take pains" to show reverence.  Many of our pastors often do not seem to care about conducting worship reverently.  Or perhaps they honestly don't know how to behave reverently in the chancel.

This, to me, is something that Gottesdienst can help with here in our own country, where we are not impoverished by material want so much as by a kind of self-imposed poverty of not recognizing the treasure we have within our own Lutheran tradition.  Those who take the time to read Gottesdienst and/or Gottesdienst Online will learn that the all-too common descriptions on the internet about us are nothing more than what Pastor Beisel said they are: one-dimensional "caricatures."

The liturgy should be conducted in as rich and full and dignified manner as circumstances allow - at least if we truly believe what we say we believe.  Wherever Christians worship, we should strive to make our liturgy as fitting and as dignified as we can, as means and circumstances permit.  Whenever Christians worship, we should strive to be as reverent as we  can.  For we are talking about the presence of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life - whether in a finely-proportioned cathedral or in a cramped beauty parlor.  I'm grateful that for twenty years, Gottesdienst has been stressing to pastors and laymen the importance of dignity and reverence in our traditional liturgical ceremonies for the sake of our confession of Christ.