The Perseverance Of Christian Liturgy
Christian liturgy is a study in steady.
May all the Baptized be deeply impressed by its perseverance throughout time and place.
In pondering such matters let us first remember that Holy Communion is Christian liturgy, and Christian liturgy is Holy Communion. Let us know, too, that all that the Baptized say and do within this sacred assemblage: the order of Service, the prayers, proclamations; praises, formulations and so on (the thing we normally refer to as “the liturgy”) all serve to rightly and reverently present, frame and celebrate this Holy Communion.
As one delves into the history of liturgical practice he finds that elements of it remain ever the same. Indeed it can be safely said that significant portions of our Eucharistic (i.e. liturgical) practice date back to the Lord himself and the practices of the apostles. Things such as: the Words of Institution, the Eucharistic prayer (which for Lutheran liturgy consists of the Lord’s Prayer), the eating and drinking, preaching, the singing of hymns and giving of thanks to God. Indeed the basic order of Christian liturgy: Liturgy of the Word followed by Liturgy of the Sacrament dates back to the Lord’s feeding miracles which followed that same structure: teaching then eating.
Other items became part of liturgy later but, also, still persist today. One chief example is the Preface which the church still prays today: “The Lord be with you; Lift up your hearts; Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God. This preface is written about by Hippolytus of Rome in the year 200 AD. If it was treated by him then, it had most likely been in practice for some time before that.
Indeed, if we read Scripture carefully we will find clear traces of this same Preface embedded in nearly all of St. Paul’s epistles which were written 20 to 30 years after Pentecost. That is impressive!
It attests to God’s own truth that has stood the test of time! That has sustained the souls of, “A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) through every circumstance of the last 2,000 years.
As Christians we should be clear that as often as we liturgize our God, in Christ, we are injecting the Light of Christ into the world, and putting the devil and “all his wicked works and all his wicked ways” to flight. In Holy Communion with Christ the Baptized truly become Light for the world, and Salt to the earth. (Mt. 5:13-14). In Christian worship heaven and earth intersect and there is nothing better than that.
In saying all this, however, let us not mistake liturgical stability with being frozen in time.
While the structure and many of the formulations of liturgy have remained the same for centuries, liturgy changes.
Learn that well.
Not radically, or drastically. Never at the whim of baby-boom pastors, or congregational worship committees. But it ever changes in items such as: wording, order, melody, updates of language, fresh thought and allusion etc. Moreover anyone who knows anything about liturgical history knows that the church, in all ages, is ever writing new hymns, new prayers, new praises that meet the reality of life from age to age. That it is perpetually engaged in stating ancient truths in fresh language so as to stay-off a legitimate case of liturgical monotony.
And so may God’s people be duly impressed with the heritage that they might easily take for granted. May they treasure it, study it, and make rich use of it all the days of their lives. For it is rehearsal for eternity.