Guest article by Pr. Bruce Timm.
Why do I use the liturgy?
Reason #5. The liturgy teaches the young and sustains the old.
This is one of the chief pastoral reasons I use the liturgy. I grew up in the 70s. I remember everything was an experiment. I had three different catechisms growing up. I went to youth gatherings where we tried something new every time. When I first became a pastor I was a little more open to variety. But experience as a pastor and father has brought me to believe that the liturgy is the very best worship we can offer our youngest and our oldest members to teach and sustain them in the faith.
Let me tell you a few stories from my experience. Adolph Schmidt was a member of mine in a nursing home in Theodore, Saskatchewan. He was very hard of hearing and suffered some form of dementia. Some days Adolph was “there” and other days he was not. On one occasion he pointed to the picture of his wife on his bedside table. He told me that her name was “Effie” and he was “sweet on her” and was pretty sure he was going to ask her to marry him. In reality, Effie was his wife of sixty years. Adolph did not know his wife that day, but when I began the confession from The Lutheran Hymnal, Adolph caught that old familiar rhythm which had been repeated in his ears week after week since 1941. He joined with me in confession. As far as I know, the liturgy and a few well known Bible passages were the only way to deliver God’s Words and gifts into Adolph Schmidt.
That experience and others like it caused me to ask, “What lies in store for those people who get a different creed and confession each week (or no creed or confession week after week)? What a difficult time their pastors will have ministering to them through their deafness and memory loss in thirty or forty years. The liturgy sustains the old.
The liturgy teaches the young. Most children think church is boring. Mine were no exception. (That topic will be addressed in my next reason and article for using the liturgy.) They didn’t like going to church in their younger years, especially twice a week (such as during Lent or Advent). Several years ago when my now oldest daughters were 8 and 6 years old I sat down to catechize them about why we go to church. They had complained about church being boring. I asked them, “Why do we go to church?” I got the standard answers, “To learn about Jesus.” “To worship God.” I wanted to teach them the Christian answer to that question, so I asked them, “What is one of the main things we do at the beginning of church?” I began reciting the confession and they joined in with me. Then I asked them what I said as the pastor. They recited the words about forgiveness in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then we talked about our need for daily forgiveness and about the church being the place where forgiveness from Christ is given out. The conclusion they reached (although they didn’t want to admit it) was that since we sin daily we should be in church whenever there is a service to attend. I could teach them easily because they knew the liturgy. Again, it came from weekly repetition of the same “old” thing.
A few years back at my current congregation a young mother came out of Divine Service and said her young daughter (under two years of age) must have said “amen” fifty times during church. What more joyful word could a parent hear than the “amen” of faith from her child? (As an aside: I heard the now-sainted Pastor George Wollenburg say that the first word Christian parents want their child to say is “amen,” not “mom” or “dad.” Amen is the word of faith that in the promises of Jesus. Amen will carry your child much farther than you can carry them.) What a blessing as a pastor to hear the little ones of the congregation receive and believe in Jesus? How did that little one learn to say “amen”? She learned “amen” from repetition, from her mom and dad and her older siblings saying “amen.” Faith comes by hearing according to St. Paul in Romans 10. The liturgy is nothing else than God’s Word. Not only does it keep us focused on the Word and Sacrament, but its repetition impresses that very Word into our hearts and minds when we are young so we will remember and be able to receive the gifts of Jesus when we are old.
The next reasons for using the liturgy – #6) The liturgy is boring. #7) The liturgy visibly unites us as a synod.