The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

The Hymn of Praise is a moment of unbridled joy. It's a time when the congregation bursts forth in loud praise of God for who He is: a God of mercy, a God of forgiveness. In one common Hymn of Praise, the congregation uses words from the book of Revelation to note how God is deserving of blessing, honor, glory, and might. God is worthy to be praised because of what He has done for us in sending the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who was slain, whose blood set us free to be God's people. The Lamb has begun His reign and we await its full and ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns.
It's hard to capture the amount of joy present in this moment. I imagine Merry and Pippin singing and dancing on tables in the pub in the first and third Lord of the Rings films. 
I imagine the scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, in which Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie are trapped in a trash compactor. When it finally stops moving, they shout for joy with such vigor that C3PO thinks they're being crushed to death. 
I imagine Buddy the Elf's uncontainable excitement when he hears Santa is coming.
Many Christians around the world are very good at expressing joy in worship. Dancing, movement, and shouts of praise are a part of their Christian traditions. 
Other Christians are less good at expressing joy in worship. Being subdued and stoic is culturally ingrained into many people of northern European descent (myself among them). In some cultures, worship is viewed as a place of such extreme propriety and piety that joy and praise somehow don't belong. Big emotions are seen as a sign of weakness.
This is a misunderstanding of joy and praise. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is a gift given to all Christians. It is a fruit to be shared with others. It is not a reckless emotion in need of subduing. Joy is a fruit meant to be multiplied. 
The Hymn of Praise is a moment for joy to come forth. It is a moment for us Christians to bask in God's glory and our forgiveness because of Christ. 
So the next time you sing the Hymn of Praise remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength.
Absolution is not a terribly common word in our common speech in twenty-first century North America. We don't often ask for or offer absolution. We don't often ask to be absolved. It is too formal for every day life. We tend to set absolution aside for the priest, the minister, the pastor.
Absolution is simply the formal version of forgiveness, and we do speak plenty of forgiveness. Although, we do like to sidestep even forgiveness.
In The Lord of the Rings films, there are several moments where absolution and forgiveness are hinted at and hoped for, even outright asked for, but the delivery always comes up short.
When the Council of Elrond gathers at Rivendell and Gandalf begins speaking in the Black Speech of Mordor, Gandalf outright says, "I do not ask your pardon Master Elrond..." He believes there is no need for absolution.
When Boromir is dying, he confesses and then outright asks Aragorn for forgiveness, saying, "I tried to take the ring from [Frodo]....Forgive me. I did not see. I have failed you all."
Aragorn responds with, "No Boromir. You have fought bravely and kept your honor."
Aragorn points Boromir to his brave actions as good enough to cancel his failures rather than forgiving the poor, dying man.
In the second film, as Rohan is preparing to defend Helm's Deep, Legolas and Aragorn fight about the long odds and certain death that are marching in their direction. Legolas then seeks reconciliation saying, "Forgive me. I was wrong to despair." And again, Agagorn rebuffs him saying, "There is nothing to forgive." (Well, maybe something got lost in the translation of the Elvish there.)
There are numerous other examples, but these reveal an all too common movement of ours to refuse to ask for or give forgiveness. For some reason, the intimacy of saying: "I forgive you" is sidestepped.
This can even happen in the church. I've heard a few people bristle at the idea of the absolution when the pastor says the words, "I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (without commas). 
People are confused by this much like the scribes in Mark 2, asking, " Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 
But Jesus has given this absolution authority over to others. Jesus established an absolution office saying, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23). 
So do not doubt when the priest, minister, or pastor says to you, "As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you." Do not disbelieve when you hear, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you." Jesus did that on purpose. He wants to forgive your sins through such people who not only proclaim and declare forgiveness to you, but actually forgive you, absolve you.
Furthermore, this absolution business is not just for the sanctuary. In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus tells Peter and the other disciples (including Andrew, Peter's actual brother) a story about an absolutely ridiculous king who forgives a debt that was larger than the gross domestic product of any nation in the world. It is a forgiveness so thorough and complete it can only be quantified in made up words like zillions and bazillions and kajillions. 
God's forgiveness comes to us by the kajillions and we have no reason to sidestep forgiving others. We can speak "I forgive you" clearly to them over and over and over again because we have been forgiven in Christ in a complete and thorough paradox as Christ dies once for all, yet His forgiveness, His absolution comes to us a zillion times.
In Matthew 17, Jesus comes down from the high mountain with Peter, James, and John after His transfiguration and finds the other nine disciples at the bottom of the mountain with a crowd gathered around them. A man there had a son who was possessed by a demon. The man utters to Jesus these famous words, "Lord have mercy upon my son." It is from this request, this moment of faithful begging that we get the element of the worship service called the Kyrie.
The Kyrie is a moment when we seek God's compassion, His mercy. The Kyrie has taken many forms over the centuries. Some forms are quite short, such as:
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Others examples of the Kyrie include multiple prayers attached. These often begin with:
In peace, let us pray to the Lord.
Answered by:
Lord have mercy.
These prayers go on to include prayers for peace and salvation, for the well-being of the church and the unity of all people,  for the place of worship and all who are gathered to worship, for help, comfort, and God's defense. 
While Matthew records the Kyrie's inspiration, in the same episode, Mark records another line that may encompass the tone and attitude of the Kyrie even better. The father of the demon-possessed child says to Jesus, "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus responds with "If?" Or more accurately, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”  
The father's response is our response, "I believe. Help my unbelief!" 
The Kyrie is a time to approach the Lord no matter how much we are struggling, to bring everything to the Lord and ask His mercy, compassion, and peace upon everything. 
Lord, have mercy. Have mercy upon our unbelief. 
It reminds me of an episode of Firefly when one character, Shepherd Book (the spaceship's unhired, unrecruited, and often unwelcome chaplain) says this line, "I believe. I just...I think I'm on the wrong ship."
Lord, have mercy when we feel like we are in the wrong place, when we have made poor decisions, when we are overwhelmed by the challenges of life. 
Lord, have mercy when we need help with our doubt and unbelief. Have compassion and help us.
Lord. Kyrie. 

If you put together the various liturgies most used at First Lutheran, you will find a confession of sins that includes confessing to the following:

  • We are by nature sinful.
  • We are by nature unclean.
  • We have sinned against God in our thoughts.
  • We have sinned against God in our words.
  • We have sinned against God in our actions, what we've done.
  • We have sinned against God in what we have failed to do.
  • We have not loved God with our whole heart.
  • We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
  • We deserve God's punishment now and forever.
  • We are unworthy before God.
  • We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
  • We are poor.
  • We are miserable.
  • We are sinners.

That's a lot. There's a totality to it. Thoughts, words, and actions are all sinful. What we do and what we fail to do are both sinful. Our sin is against God and against neighbor, the two greatest commandments according to Jesus. We deserve punishment now and forever. We are helpless. 

We are miserable.

Miserable. There is a word with some baggage. I immediately think of how a person might feel if they had the flu. Miserable, achy, wretched, a person to be pitied.

Miserable has become almost entirely negative in its usage. Nobody wants to be miserable. Confessing that we are miserable might not be terribly true if we only think of miserable as a wretched, unhappy person that none of us wants to be around.

At the root of miserable is the Latin word miser. It’s where we get our English word “miser,” as in a stingy person, as in Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But it also appears in the Latin version of our historic liturgy in the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God).

It’s this phrase: miserere nobis, which means “have mercy upon us.”

To be miserable in that sense is not to be unhappy or stingy or wretched, but rather to be one who needs mercy. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser in both of these ways. He is a stingy man in need of mercy, and thankfully he receives it.

Looking at the laundry list of things listed above, we are confessing to our total depravity before God and neighbor, and I think we can all easily confess that we are miserable, for we are truly in need of God’s mercy. 

And He has given us mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.

These three options - the Introit, Psalm, or Entrance Hymn - fit into one specific space in the worship service that is often overlooked, even skipped in some liturgical congregations. Yet it occupies an important space in the movement of the liturgy. 
Introit is Latin for "entrance." The Introit is the time we enter God's presence and this typically occurs after we have been made ready for such a movement by the grand transformation of forgiveness. 
The introit or entrance hymn reminds me of the Disney classic Aladdin. There is a moment when Aladdin comes into the city of Agrabah with a grand processional. But Aladdin cannot make such a grand entrance until he is made worthy, until he is transformed into a prince, which is of course his first wish from Genie. Absolution is our moment of being made worthy, our moment of transformation.
Not that long ago (only 100-150 years ago), confession and absolution was rarely done corporately as part of the worship service. It was done privately (yes even in Protestant circles) on Saturdays before the Lord's Supper was served on Sunday mornings. This was admittedly a different time. The Lord's Supper was not served every week, not even every other week. In many cases the Lord's Supper was served quarterly at best, so a quarterly Saturday confession and absolution was part of the routine. 
Since confession and absolution were not a part of the Sunday morning service, often the first thing after the invocation was the introit, which is typically composed of verses from the Psalms. You can use the appointed introit for the day or the appointed psalm of the day (these are different) or an appropriate entrance hymn. Many congregations will use a hymn here if they don't use an opening hymn before the confession and absolution. At First Lutheran we use the Entrance Hymn option.
Even with the addition of confession and absolution to Sunday morning, you still see this entrance movement in many twenty-first century liturgical congregations, including First Lutheran. Until the absolution is pronounced, the pastor will not move into the altar area. The invocation, confession, and absolution, are done outside the altar area. 
This movement into the presence of the altar, the presence of the elements of wine and bread that will become Christ's body and blood within the hour, echoes the movement of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies in the temple. In former days our approach into God's presence was excessively limited, once a year by one person. But now, thousands, millions perhaps, approach every week and the enter by the blood of Jesus. 
This is why waiting until the absolution is pronounced is ritually significant. We enter as forgiven sinners by the blood of Jesus. 
This is also why when I enter the altar area during the entrance hymn, I look for the line in that hymn that speaks most clearly about Jesus' death for the sins of the world. I enter during that line to subtly communicate that my entrance is only possible because of the blood of Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is how worship services begin in our congregation: in the name of the Triune God without commas, with the sign of the cross.
This is also the way Christian life begins as we are baptized into the name of that same Triune God without commas, with water and the Word of God.
Some pastors, priests, or ministers add the words "We begin..." to this invocation. Personally, I choose not to do that. "We begin..." is not how you invoke a name. 
In the days when kings and queens, emperors and pharaohs ruled the world, their names were invoked to show the authority by which a task was done.
One place we see a true invocation in our contemporary culture is in George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Here are the words Ned Stark uses to execute the Night's Watch deserter, Will.
"In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm, I, Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, sentence you to die."  
As we come before the Lord of the universe in worship, we do so by His own authority and in His own name, a Triune name without commas. It is an official act, a formal act, a solemn act. It does not require the words "we begin..." for the words themselves are a beginning, a notice. They move us into a new time, a new act. 
In this name many official acts occur. We are baptized in this name. We are forgiven in this name. We are blessed in this name. We are confirmed in this name. We are married in this name. We are sent on new adventures in this name. We are installed in various roles in our congregations in this name. We are commended to the Lord for death in this name. We are buried in this name.
From first to last, beginning to end, the name of the Triune God is placed upon us again and again without commas but with authority. 
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