The tagline of Gottesdienst, namely, “The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy,” can be a little misleading. For when we say “liturgy,” some people believe that the entire journal (and by extension, the blog, the podcast, and the conferences) is, or should only be, related to things like rubrics.
Don’t get me wrong. We love rubrics! Say the black and do the red and all that!
But sometimes people will ask what something in Gottesdienst has to do with liturgy (especially the blog). Sometimes it is asked honestly, but often it’s actually passive-aggressive rhetorical snark because the reader doesn’t like what was said.
Here is the answer: Liturgy is more than rubrics. Liturgy is more than the ordo. Liturgy is more than rules concerning the usage of vestments, or esoteric histories of words and actions in the chancel. For all of these things are pointers to something greater. The liturgy is the means by which we Christians still experience divine miracles: be they the salvation and rebirth of a sinner by water and the Spirit, or the literal removal of sins by means of holy words spoken under authority, or the actual physical presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ among us in His actual body and blood at the altar, or in the very eternal and mighty Word of God (the force which brought the entire universe into being) proclaimed and preached in the holy assembly of Christians gathered together - a Word that bears life itself, even the raising of the dead.
This is what we mean by “liturgy.”
And put in this context, liturgy means more than the annual quibbling over what color to use for advent, or what style of chasuble should be employed (topics to which some people might argue Gottesdienst ought to limit itself - and which would provide fodder for mockery by the same people to employ against us were it so).
There is certainly occasion for discussion of such things. But liturgy means much more than that. There is liturgy in the narrow sense - and yes, we do need guidance regarding how to hold our hands, which direction to turn, when should we bow or genuflect or cross ourselves (have you seen the video?). But these things are the bene esse, not the esse, of liturgy. The esse of liturgy is Christ. And Christ is our life.
Life itself is liturgy, and we should live liturgically. All of creation is liturgical, as the pattern of evening and morning reaches back to creation itself. There are cycles of sleep and of being awake, of eating and refraining from eating, of the passing of the seasons, and of the separation of time into Before Christ and Anno Domini. There are also weekly patterns that govern life - work and rest.
In addition to this temporal form, there is also the spacial element of liturgy. Our proximity to that which is holy governs our lives. We not only come to the incarnate Christ at certain times, but also in certain places: in the sanctuary, at the altar, near the font, around the pulpit - as well as in the hospital or home, and even at the grave-site, locations to which Christ is brought to us in certain seasons of life.
The life of the Christian is a liturgical life, an ongoing motion in space and time chiefly demarcated by the reception of the Holy Eucharist, week in and week out. We mark the seasons of the church year by means of different readings and colors and other customary aspects that serve the endeavor of fixing our minds upon the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. We mark the holy places by means of altar linens, crosses, candles, the communion rail, and even the door of the nave. We mark the holy times by means of bells and the sign of the cross, by which we mark ourselves, to remind us of Holy Baptism, of the Holy Trinity, of our deliverance from Satan. We bless ourselves with the holy cross upon rising in the morning, upon retiring in the evening, upon the blessing of our meals, and upon receiving a benediction.
A well-lived liturgical life includes the sanctity - even in our common, ordinary lives - of prayer, preferably done with regularity and in such a way that it can be lived both individually and corporately. The liturgical life includes even the cycles of time and place in our work - for work itself is a holy vocation.
A liturgical life also concerns itself with defending the liturgy against those who would abolish or corrupt it. A liturgical life believes that the liturgy is worth fighting for - whether against those from without, who would outlaw our church services, or those from within, who would emasculate the liturgy and adulterate it and weaken it with theologies foreign to our confession, or with words and deeds incongruous with the miracles that we confess happen in our very midst.
The liturgical life is not an ivory tower life lived in a vacuum or on a stage. The liturgical life is an authentic incarnational life, aware of what is happening in the proximity of the church - both literally and figuratively. The liturgical life is a warrior life, as we are called upon to receive the baton from our fathers and mothers and to hand it on (παραδίδωμι!) unscathed to our sons and daughters. We are the church militant, not the church impotent. We are confessors of the incarnate catholic faith of the flesh and blood of our Lord upon the cross and upon the altar - not a diluted, gnostic spirituality of antiseptic, saccharine niceness.
The liturgical life is a life rooted in God’s Word - which ought to be in our hearts and on our lips, with or without a hymnal, or catechism, or Bible. The liturgical life is a life prepared for persecution - as the well-worn patterns of liturgical worship form deeply carved ruts into our memory (individual and collective), defining the contours of our very existence. And like the patterned grooves on an old-fashioned record, they enable us to transmit the faith to future generations - even if that transmission must be done in labor camps or in secret assemblies underground. We are naive indeed if we think those days are forever in our past, or that perhaps such things could never happen here. Those deep grooves also serve the liturgical life of the very young, the very old, and those bearing the cross of dementia.
The liturgical life stands like a fulcrum in opposition to the ever-shifting life of shallow entertainment and the relentless pursuit of fleeting and unsatisfying pleasure and excitement that plague our culture. The liturgical life opposes the nihilism that underlies much of what ails our society, which seeks in vain to have a place to belong and a sense of purpose and attachment.
The liturgical life is a life of joy - as even the singing of “Happy Birthday” and the eating of cake and ice cream constitute a liturgical aspect of the celebration of life itself - something that is becoming almost foreign to our rampant culture of death. The liturgical life provides ground-rules for how we relate to one another, meeting people in different stations of life, showing honor and respect between the sexes and to those of different ages, giving us a framework to eat and work and sleep and attend to our needs in life - and of course, to worship the Most Holy Trinity - the most important liturgical action of all.
The liturgical life is a life of belonging and of love. God is love. Christ is God.
The liturgical life is a life lived in Christ.