The Longevity of the Liturgy

As we continue through the season of Lent, there are some rhythms that most churches find themselves falling into. Whether you’re on the more “contemporary” end of the musical spectrum or are more “traditional,” the music that accompanies the church service in your congregation has probably changed from what it was a few weeks ago during the Epiphany season, and certainly from what it was during Christmas. If your church changes out paraments, banners, and other such things around the sanctuary, those have changed too. Lent simply feels different from Christmas and Easter. Things tend to be bit more subdued. You may not even notice it unless you really stop to think about it, but, chances are you congregation just operates a bit differently during Lent.

This is, of course, the whole point of Lent. When the liturgical year started to come together through the early period of the church, it was done with the knowledge that we simply need help being more like Christ. Sinners comprehend God’s Will without help, much less carry it out. We need as much assistance as we can get. Thus, the liturgical year and its seasons came to be. Luther would argue that none of what we do in the liturgical seasons is required, since none of it actually contributes to our salvation. At the same time, he would also say if it is a benefit to your faith, you should do it. The early church knew from the beginning that you cannot really grasp the power of the Gospel if you do not have a deep and abiding awareness of sin. That Jesus freely forgives sins makes no difference if you do not understand the depth of the sin you have. That Jesus triumphs over death and rises victorious makes no difference if you do not understand the wrongness of death and how it has invaded creation.

To put it more simply, the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter needed context. We need to be prepared by the Law to receive the grace of the Gospel. Further, as sinners, we need to be taught this lesson constantly. Law must precede Gospel or you will never want what the Gospel offers.

This is the beauty of the liturgical year and the liturgy as a whole. The church throughout the centuries gave a great deal of thought into building these rhythms into its life so that the life of the church as a whole would become the life of each individual member of it. All would grow together in faith and life and together become more like Christ.

The relationship between Lent and Easter is just one example of what the church’s development of the liturgy is meant to do. I say all of this because there is the increasing tendency these days to do away with various aspects of the liturgy as out-modded or obtuse. Too often, this mindset comes from a lack of understanding what the liturgy is trying to accomplish. If not that, then thinking the purpose of that aspect of the liturgy is simply no longer necessary.

Second to the Word of God itself, the liturgy and everything associated with it is the best teaching tool the church has. But, it can only do all of that work if the church makes use of it. To that end, it is incumbent on every Christian to dig deep into the liturgy, too examine and reflect on the ebb and flow of the liturgical year, to see the interplay within the worship service and the direction of activity, and to see how, through all of it, God is teaching us about the relationship we have with Him.

In this Lenten season, I urge all Christian to immerse themselves in the reality of the Law and of their sin. In so do, the great feast of the Resurrection will be all the sweeter for it.

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