I originally posted this on 03/31/2011, Liturgy—Brokenness, Forgiveness, and Praise, and it seems fitting on this day after Christmas. Liturgically it is also Martyrdom of Stephen.
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!