February 5, 2007

Lutheran Liturgy: Hymn of Praise

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:58 am

First, a couple notes on this series of posts on liturgy. I make no attempt here to provide any of the theological or historical background for the liturgy — I’m not really qualified to do that. Instead, these are my personal reflections on the Lutheran liturgy, good and bad, and nothing more.

Second, I should note that so far I’ve been dealing with the traditional setting. My church alternates between the traditional setting and a contemporary setting and variations thereof. All follow the same liturgical structure dating back thousands of years, but the contemporary service has updated music with guitars and piano instead of the organ. Maybe I’ll get around to commenting on the contemporary service, but for no particular reason I’ve started with the traditional one.

Lastly, the ELCA is currently rolling out a new hymnal that is getting some press in Lutheran circles. I haven’t seen it, but my understanding is that it doesn’t change any of the current “settings”, or services, but consolidates some of the contemporary settings that have been in use, along with the traditional settings, into one book. Hence, it doesn’t really change my comments here, I don’t think.

So on to the liturgy. I think the structure of the liturgy is inspired, divinely so — its flow is just so…perfect. Last time I wrote about the Confession and Forgiveness of Sins. So now we’ve all admitted we’re sinners and heard that we are all forgiven, so what’s next? God’s kingdom is what’s next. There is only one possible response to God’s forgiveness — singing our praises to God. This is the Hymn of Praise:

This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia.
Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.
Power and riches and wisdom and strength, and honor and blessing and glory are his.
This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia.
Sing with all the people of God and join in the hymn of all creation:
Blessing and honor and glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever Amen.
This is the feast of victory for our God, for the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

I like this particular form because it borrows so heavily from Revelation. It feels like practice for the heavenly kingdom, and every Sunday is supposed to be just that — a foretaste of the feast to come. I also like the phrase “feast of victory”, which of course is referring to communion, but it’s very evocative of my favorite image of the Kingdom: a party. We so often think Revelation is eschatological, foretelling the rapture, the final battle, and Christ’s return. Of course, I believe the rapture is a racket, but worse, it distracts from the incredible portrait of God’s kingdom found in Revelation — a feast, a celebration, a party! The Hymn of Praise is meant to be this kind of joyful praise as practice for an eternity with God.

But then there’s the reality. It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve already argued at least once with every member of my family. I’m sleep deprived, because I’m always sleep deprived, and I’ve just missed my one opportunity of the week to sleep in. Problems at work and home are bouncing around in the back of my mind. So there I am — grouchy, tired and distracted, singing the Hymn of Praise. The difference between living in eternal bliss in heaven and living out our mortal and temporal lives couldn’t be more apparent. Which is why we need to practice the Kingdom in church every Sunday.

So at best, the Hymn of Praise for me is a time for centering my mind on church as a foretaste of the feast to come, as an opportunity to practice an eternity of heavenly praise of God. At worst, it’s a reminder of how much I let all the crap in my life get in the way of my relationship with God, a reminder to let it all go and return to what really matters by turning it all over to God. Only then am I prepared to listen to the Word of God, which I’ll talk about next.

2 Comments

  1. My church uses a very truncated, mostly spoken liturgy taken from WOV. We never sing the Song of PRaise, and I miss it so much. I don’t know what it is about my congregation, but they just can’t hack sung liturgies.

    Comment by LutheranChik — February 8, 2007 @ 11:22 am

  2. I’m on-board with your analysis of the HoP (not to be confused with the Hymn of Pancakes)… but gads, the music. Granted, musical taste is subjective but the HoP melody is brutal to this musician’s ears. In fact, I dislike it so much it that it renders the lyrical content moot. I feel the same way about a great many of the hymns and congregational song offered in many of the ELCA settings. Here’s to hoping the new hymnal has some better tunes as.

    Comment by John M — February 12, 2007 @ 6:10 pm

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