Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kyrie Eleison

These words, meaning "Lord, have mercy," describe our theology of worship. It is by the mercy of God that we approach our Lord, and it is by the mercy of His righteousness covering us that we can come into His presence.

It is also a cry of exasperation and frustration. So it aptly describes my experience at the opening worship of the LCMS convention.

Worship - God's coming to us through His means of grace and our response to that great love, should be a point of unity for God's people. That was not the case at this opening worship. My eyes were opened to just how desperately divided we are as a Synod, and this is not just a question of musical tastes or styles, but of our understanding of what worship is.

Please, do not get me wrong - it is not that the worship service was bad or heretical. In my Tweet just following the service, I referred to the service as eclectic. I was tempted to use the term schizophrenic. The texts were, for the most part, rather decent, but it was almost as if there were a checklist of musical styles that needed to be incorporated into the service, and we checked them off one by one. (One particularly inappropriate pairing, I thought, was the 3rd stanza of The Church's One Foundation (the one about the church being oppressed and the saints crying, "How long?") being paired up with a light jazz piano accompaniment that made the pastor next to me think of Linus and Lucy - that fun little jazz number that plays when Snoopy is walking out to his doghouse in the animated TV specials of the Peanuts cartoons. I wouldn't have minded a full jazz setting, I guess, but to pull that out for just the one stanza just seemed glaringly out of place.)

I am one who doesn't mind having my horizons stretched when it comes to artistic styles and tastes, even when it comes to the Divine Service. But the fundamental understanding of "everything in service to the text" seemed to be absent in the service. And trying to incorporate so many styles in the service reminded me of those commercials for "sugar coated sucrose puffs" cereal. They always talk about "part of this complete breakfast." But, as one comedian pointed out, it isn't a part of the complete breakfast, it is adjacent to the the complete breakfast. The service was neither traditional nor contemporary, and not a blending of the two. A blending denotes a cohesion. This was more of an aqueous suspension of styles in close proximity to one another.

The thing that was more disappointing to me were the accoutrements to the service. Again, the rule that stands above all the others when it comes to the things accompanying the worship service is "everything is service to the text." The flashing colored lights, continuously moving/changing multicolored background of abstract art behind the altar projected onto a scrim which at times "disappeared" because of a theatrical lighting trick, and the giant flatscreen television attached to the front of the altar served as much distraction from the Word.

But the most disappointing thing of the entire evening was a division that came at a time when we should have been the most united. Toward the end of the distribution, a particularly moving contemporary song was played. An appreciable number of those gathered and raised their hands to feel the wave of the Holy Spirit coming over them. Coming from the district I do, I have never seen so starkly the disparate disconnect between the theologies of worship at work within our Synod. At a time when I should have been rejoicing in our unity under the redemption brought by the Body and Blood of Christ, I wanted to sit and weep like Rachel, mourning for her children. (Jeremiah 3:15)

But as much difficulty as I had with the man-centered additions to the worship service, I can say this: The Word of God does not return to Him void. (Isaiah 55:11) His Word was proclaimed, His Body and Blood were received, and they cover all of my sins, even those sins of distraction during the service and uncharitable disgust. (Some of the disgust was righteous, and deservedly so. But this poor, wretched man cannot distinguish between that which was righteous and that which was unrighteous just as I cannot divide within myself between sinner and saint, for I am completely and wholly sinner and completely and wholly saint.) Even despite our frailties to be the instruments by which God brings His means of grace, even despite our frailties to be the recipients of that grace without questioning or doubting the instruments by which He brings us those means, God was at work and brought me the forgiveness that I need to be His servant.

And God is working through this convention to bring about His will through our congregations and the denomination into which they have confederated themselves. God is working.

Kyrie Eleison  - Lord have mercy!
Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come. Amen.