Liturgy — Brokenness, Forgiveness, Praise


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After posting about “Liturgy — Response to Forgiveness,” I reflected a lot about that post. I thought: “What have I done?” Not that I made a mistake in anything I had written. Rather that post could easily be seen as strengthening the argument against the use of liturgy. In practical language someone could say, “See, there the liturgy goes over my head and misses my heart.” And that is a problem. So let’s step back for a minute and put liturgy within the context of our brokenness, sinfulness, and the role of Church in all this. So this post is about brokenness, forgiveness, and praise from the perspective of how the Church is to be, and then how liturgy connects to that aspect of the life of the Church.

I read several blogs over the past two days that had to do with some brokenness in some devastating areas of life. Personal hurts, public sins, etc. One in particular, grace is for sinners, noted that the Church often is not a place for broken people. We don’t know how to deal with “them,” either from the stand point of the sin (i.e. Matthew 18 in practice) or from preconceived notions about how “we don’t want that kind of person here.” We don’t know how to forgive and restore people who have been broken by their sin. And yet, in each of the blogs, the constant was there: God’s work of accusing and condemning (Law) brought about spiritual death, but more importantly, God’s work of forgiving, renewing, and restoring (Gospel) brought new life.

So how does this relate to the liturgy? The liturgy is not separated from hard realities of life. In fact, the liturgy gives expression to the full realm of life, sin, death, resurrection, and new life. Our shared confession of sin in liturgy is God’s wake up call—for ALL of us. If I have sinned, even publicly, I’m broken when I hear God’s Law. If I stand aloof or indifferent while a fellow Christian is broken or suffers, I have sinned and must be broken by that Law (even though I might not feel it immediately). Confession unites us at the bottom of the pit. Absolution (forgiveness of sin) brings the forgiving, healing, restoring words from God himself. And thus Absolution unites us in Christ.

What would you do if someone was crying during the confession and absolution? Pretend that it isn’t happening, “it isn’t my responsibility,” look away because of embarrassment? Perhaps we have all been there. As we shift in liturgy to praise, that might be the exact time to stand next to the person who is crying. No words, but maybe a gentle touch on the arm, a hug, if appropriate, even your own tears. Some might think that such an action would “disrupt the solemnity of the liturgy.” My theological evaluation of that response is, “Hogwash!” That is the very heart of praise. A quietness shared in the midst of pain, a heart ready to share, a tear of consolation… isn’t that a response of praise? Maybe neither of them can even sing praise right now. And that is okay. But they are part of the praise community. It will bring us all along, in our time, in our way.

There have been times when I have not sung any of the praise responses, occasionally I couldn’t sing the praise. But I listened to everyone else sing and thus joined them. In that quietness my heart was praising, even though my lips were not moving. At times the praising was right at the edge—would I cry now? Men don’t cry! Would I have to leave in embarrassment? No, over the decades I have learned that men do cry (I’m a living example), and when we are talking about forgiveness of sins, that is not embarrassment, but a relief, a joy to be shared, a life to celebrate. God is at work in the most astounding way possible.

Brokenness, forgiveness, and praise then are at the heart of the liturgy. And liturgy is directed to the heart as well as the mind. I hope that we begin to see that liturgy does not obscure God, rather it forces us to deal with God. In stark terms as a “poor miserable sinner” and as “one forgiven and restored.” And that brings us to praise!

 

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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8 Responses to Liturgy — Brokenness, Forgiveness, Praise

  1. Dave says:

    I was leading a communion service once. A man broke down in tears as I was dismissing the communicants. He came to me the next week and apologized for disrupting the dignity of the service. I asked him if it didn’t seem like a normal thing that someone who hears of Christ’s giving himself for our sins should at least think about crying. This man’s eyes have been full of tears of gratitude in communion since then with no apologies.

    You made very good points. May the Lord show us our brokenness as we enter into his presence.

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  2. amy says:

    Beautiful post … and one I can relate to very much. In the sense that, it was through Divine Liturgy that my own brokenness was addressed and tended to. I very much found Church as a hospital in this regard.

    As you mentioned in your second paragraph, it pains me to read that someone would think church is NOT for broken people … we are all broken and in need of restoration. A church that would make someone feel “on the outside” because of their sin and brokenness can in no way be preaching the Gospel.. at least it seems to me.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that it is this brokenness, forgiveness and love that is the very heart of Liturgy. I am reminded of a poignant moment in my first year attending the Orthodox Church. I was worshipping alone, standing there not knowing anyone and in tears because of personal circumstances. It was then, as the communicants were returning to their pews after receiving Holy Communion, that a kind older gentleman passed in front of me, paused and took my hand. He gave to me a piece of the blessed bread and closed my hand around it. In that beautiful moment, the infinite love of God flooded my soul…

    …praise God for those who are aware of the brokenness around them and seek to extend a hand of mercy in the name of the Lord. †

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  3. exegete77 says:

    Dave, thanks for sharing that incident from your ministry.

    Amy, thanks for your comments. Especially, “be aware of the brokenness around them.” You have identified a critical factor. Are we sensitive to where people are? Or are we looking for them to be where we want them to be? If we are not sensitive to them then how can we extend a hand to them? It is an on-going challenge for all of us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 becomes an important text in this area.

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  4. TVerinus says:

    I think observations here are right on, but would like to layer another understanding that also applies both in Liturgy and outside. We sometimes see tears of “I hear the words, I believe they are true, but you don’t know me and they are not true for me.” and then they shed tears of despair, going through the motions hoping it means something. We have to speak to these also. And the Entrance Liturgy does!

    Confession. We need to encourage private C&A. Someone has to take each of us aside and say “no. no. wrong! look at my eyes .. this is for you!!!” Now let’s look at the Entrance in this light either running to and falling at the doorway of the Sanctuary from private C&A, or following the Corporate C&A. We hear the Invocation, and tremble at His Voice. God is here. He declares in absolution. “It’s ok, you can come into my presence. You are my child forgiven, come to the Father’s loving arms.” Like the young 5 year old we climb up into His lap, and like that child we bring our petitions, The Litany (Kyrie) confident that He hears because He said He would.

    As we consider what we have done, knowing that the Father has promised us His gifts, soon to follow, we are like the child that knows they are getting something special at Christmas. .. don’t have it yet, but it is certain that we will receive it then, because our Father said so.

    When I have set in the Father’s arms, and heard His Words “for you” (we’ll see how that echoes to this promise now, later, at the Table, but I know it so now before, in the promise, and I will shout “Gloria!” and “This is the feast,” (haven’t eaten yet, but I have been given a seat!)and I propose that if we add a few praise songs to this time, it is fitting. Our “Lutheran Hour Liturgy” doesn’t allow for the … full Litany, hymns Psalms and spiritual songs to just echo in our hearts very well. It’s ok to take time here …. you see we are going to receive the gifts of God. That’s exciting … “for me.” And there are tears in this also.

    I look forward to your continuing into the Gift of the Word next, and have comments that follow there. But if as I hear these words, this gift, I break out into “This is the air I breath.” that too is a part of a broken heart. Sometimes as we simply sit with those in tears, we take up a tune and simply sing, “This is the air I breathe.”

    TV

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  5. Emily says:

    Love this. I have been on the receiving end if this kind of compassion and to me it fit perfectly with the liturgy. It was Gods comfort through His words and His touch via His other children all together.

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  6. exegete77 says:

    Thanks for the comments, Emily. I think this particular post is the “deepest” of my blog. There is a lot behind it. Glad that you too have experienced the compassion of God through the liturgy and those in your midst.

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