Steadfast in Society: The Liturgy of Death
Lutheran theology is hard. Most of all for culture. Even other denominations have a hard time delving deep into the beautiful and rich understanding of steadfast Lutheranism all across the world. Growing up in the Bible belt, however the theology often played “second fiddle” to our theology in practice. My friends of evangelical roots could never quite grasp the understanding of the Divine Liturgy. They would ask; “Why all the standing up and sitting down?” “Why all the chanting?” “How can the Pastor forgive my sins… only God can do that?” For me this was a nearly every day conversation. And right after each question, I often times answer them this way, “We all have a liturgy, whether you like it or not!”
This is also true of the secular world. The Old Adam certainly has his own liturgy. Pagans approached by St. Paul had their own liturgy. And today’s society and the unchurched also have their own liturgy. Even the unbelieving make up their own, “religious” group and pay homage to the deeds and credits that they have established for themselves. This ends up with quips that we pass on such as, “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” or “do what makes you happy,” or even worse, “to thine own self be true.” But there is no loving God in these. “If” there is no loving God to become a living sacrifice for the sake of the fallen, then who else can society worship? The answer is a loud and clear, “ME.” This is where Lutheran theology says rather simply: if we rely on “ME,” we die. While we live outside of Christ, we continue on in our own Liturgy of Death, paying homage to our own creeds, our own homily, and hoping that by doing so we can leave a benediction to the world in which we leave behind.
Let’s work from the most basic understanding of a liturgy: “liturgy is the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions.” We have established that humanity outside of Holy Baptism is its own “religious” group that ends up worshiping the human. So how would their liturgy play out? Humans by nature are “invoked” at birth, wash themselves, they sing their own “hymns,” establish their own “creed,” proclaim their own “sermon,” feed themselves their own meal, and ultimately end in the hopes of being a benediction to the society in which they are leaving upon this earth. Outside of Christ, sin turns man inward toward themselves and makes us faux participators in earthly self-salvation and makes us receivers of nothing but eternal damnation.
Outside of Christ and His grace, mercy, and peace, all that there is to rely on is “ME.” Thus we would falter through this world creating our own Liturgy of Death, even teaching others a litany of doom in which to follow. This is life outside of life. This is life outside of Christ. This is the life that must end in the drowning and resurrection in the font. Ultimately, society in the sense of the “Christo-resentful” find glory in themselves and regard the rest as bunk or ridiculous. You have the Liturgy of Death created and condemnably sustained by earthly pleasures or the Liturgy of Life given to us each Sunday as we gather to be receivers of Christ’s gifts. The Liturgy of Life comes only from the crucified Christ: given for you.
Let us cling to the true Liturgy of Life. The Divine Liturgy where God serves us Himself. Where He gives us His own life so that we would live eternally. This is where Lutheran theology can become difficult. It is not in our nature to have a God who serves us. God is the Creator we are the creatures, what business does God have serving us? But that is just what He does in the Liturgy!
The Divine Liturgy is all about who the Lord is and what the Lord does. It is about the Lord’s modus operandi. He is motivated out of His great love for us that He has given His only Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ to free us from the bounds of sin and to bring us everlasting life. This is what is in the Divine Liturgy: Life and Salvation and it is foreign to the sinful world.
The Divine Liturgy is opposed to the Liturgy of Death
The Divine Liturgy works directly in opposition to society’s Liturgy of Death. Recall what the Liturgy of Death entails: an invocation into sin, singing, proclaiming, and preaching our own “greatness”, and in the hopes of blessing others with our own dirty works. While this is all about “ME”, the Divine Liturgy is all about Christ for you. Next time you are in Divine Service (liturgy), stop and consider what the Lord of doing for you. In the Divine Liturgy, the Trinitarian name which was washed over us in Holy Baptism that brought us into salvation is spoken at the invocation recalling when we were adopted by Christ in the holy waters. Christ gives us His holy absolution freeing us from our sins. The Holy Word of God is planted through our ears and into our hearts in the readings and is preached to us by our under-shepherds. In the Divine Liturgy the creeds are confessed regarding all on the gifts in which Christ has given to us. We eat of the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, where there is life and salvation for you. And we are sent away with the very benediction as from God Himself that He will bless you and keep you in this life until we receive the full feast with the lamb in His kingdom. This is the true Divine Liturgy and it is given to you freely. No earning. No buying. Just the forgiveness of sins: For you. Salvation: For you. Heaven on earth: For you. The promise of everlasting peace from your trials and tribulations. Here, on earth, in the Divine Liturgy.