Liberty and Freedom in Worship

LiturgyRead the original article here.

There are always those Lutherans who complain about the liturgy, lectionary, and liturgical year as stifling the spontaneity of the moment, the power of the Spirit to do something new.  So the goal of worship, for those so inclined, is freedom from the rule of the form and its texts, a romantic idyllic freedom in which the spirit of the self and the Spirit of God intertwine in perfect unity and harmony on some spiritual plane far above word or gesture.

The problem is that this elusive freedom is itself its own bondage.  Liberty in worship is achieved less by freedom from text and form or even by the endless freedom of many texts, options, and forms, than it is by the submission and embrace of the rule and text of the liturgy.  The ultimate spontaneity of the moment is the tyranny of self, of moment, of preference, and of the nebulous idea of what is found meaningful.

I would suggest that the freedom so often sought it found not in the escape from the liturgical shape, text, and ritual of the Mass than it is by knowing and being so thoroughly shaped by these that we find God where He has pledged to be in the means of grace. Spontaneity is less open to the Spirit than it is to the self.  The goal of spontaneity is claimed to be following the leading of God when in reality it ends up less following God than following self — what feels right to us and to those around us at this particular juncture of space and time.

Instead of the consensus of the fathers and the legacy of the faithful we are held in awkward captivity to the moment itself and to the feelings we either have or do not have in that moment.  This is its own tyranny and bondage. Original sin means that spontaneity and the moment are no longer the domains of God in our lives but the ordinary arenas of sin and the sinful self.  Our bondage is not simply to the actual sins themselves but to the perspective of self which judges all things.  Its judgment is faulty and its voice is deceptive. Searching for the liberty of a truly spontaneous encounter with God is original sin left to its own devices. 

It is only within the Word and the Sacraments that we are led from the wilderness to the promised land of God’s grace and favor. We are bound to the liturgy because the liturgy is literally the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace.  We are bound to them because in them alone is freedom — freedom through the forgiveness of sins, through the imputation of a righteousness impossible to us apart from Christ’s gift, and through the bestowal of the life that death cannot steal nor overcome. 

Sitting around in a circle waiting for God may be cool in a stranger sort of way but there is no guarantee of God’s presence and even less that He will be accessible to us there.  It is only where we are gathered in His name — His name being in His Word, His Water, His Voice (absolution) and His Meal. 

That is liturgy.  That is freedom.  That is Spirit.  That is Truth. 

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