This Week’s Liturgy Notes: Comments on Worship at Messiah, Seattle, by Pr. Rossow

As mentioned on other posts, my wife and I received the ministrations of the Lord from the mouth of Pastor  Ernie Lassman, Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle on Thanksgiving Day. In place of our usual weekly liturgy notes let me share a few thoughts on the liturgical practice of Matins at Messiah in hopes of  exemplifying for the Brothers  good  liturgical practice. Indeed, there were many good things practiced at Messiah.

Since it was not a church festival or ordinary Sunday but  the day of national thanksgiving, there was no sacrament and  we sang the daily office of Matins. I discovered after the service that Messiah has a new organist and it was his first public playing of Matins. There were a few rough spots but it was done  well enough to lead the congregation in their praise of God. Young and old alike sang the liturgy effectively. The congregation recently changed from TLH to LSB.

One of the great things about the liturgy is that it spans the ages. Since the older members remember Matins from TLH and since the editors of LSB changed little about the service, everyone was able to sing it well. The liturgy also spans the miles. Here we were  2,000 miles away from our home in Chicago and yet we were able to sing the liturgy without having to struggle with the local “contemporary” praise and worship tunes and a praise band trying to mimic the difficult trills and slurs of the latest Christian pop singers.

Have you ever noticed that most  contemporary church combos just aren’t that good? Contemporary Christian music is not  a genre  that is  made for duplication by amateurs nor to be sung  by groups and yet congregation after congregation thinks that they must have the same kind of music the local megachurch has. I have been to countless contemporary church services and have seen plenty of local cable access worship services and let me tell you honestly folks, because your pastor or volunteer music director won’t. You’re bad. You’re not that good. In the shower you may sound like Michael W. Smith or Amy Grant (or whoever the latest, greatest Christian pop icon is – you can tell what era I stopped listening to the stuff) but in the chancel with a second rate amplification system and with a bunch of  amateur musicians, you don’t sound that good. Traditional church music accompanied by even an amateur organist works because it is music that was written for the folk to sing and the organ is a great instrument to lead group singing.

Getting back to Messiah, the service was done exactly as  it is written in the hymnal.  This is so important. We do not need to be slaves of the liturgy but keeping its basic form and keeping local changes to a minimum is what gives the liturgy its main strengths: 1) keeping the focus on God serving us his word and sacraments, 2) the ability to assist the church in keeping doctrine consistently pure through the ages, 3) ease of worship by people across the ages and the miles.

There was nothing snazzy, outstanding, or creative about the presentation of the liturgy at Messiah and that is the point. The liturgy is simple, straightforward and consistent. That is what allows it to be such a source of strength for the church. My wife and I are fortunate to be at a church with one of the finest cantors around (Phillip Magness). He is quite creative and so our music program is quite rich and we have a higher number of local customs than the average church, but week in and week out our goal is  to do the liturgy in its purest and simplest sense in order to accomplish the purposes listed above.

The first line printed in the special Thanksgiving Day bulletin instructed the congregants where to make the sign of the cross during the service.  The congregation is well trained beacuse there were numerous peopel who followed that rubric. The effective training of the congregaton was also evident in the full manner in which they spoke and sang the liturgy.

The vicar chanted some of the liturgical parts and Pastor Lassman spoke some of it. All the congregation parts were sung. It was a little awkward to have some parts spoken by the pastor and responses sung by the congregation but better to have some chanting than none at all.

The sermon was preached by the vicar. It was a good liturgical sermon. It fit the propers of the day, was textual and properly distinguished God’s two words of law and gospel.

One down side was that no one greeted us. Personally I do not need that and would rather introduce myself to others on my own terms but most  conservative congregations could benefit from being more welcoming.

God’s word came to us in this service and it created in us new hearts which allowed us to return back to God in praise, the very word that He delivered to us in the liturgy of Matins. We encourage the congregations of the Northwest district to go to Messiah, Seattle and see how they are doing the historic liturgy the way it was intended. Thank you Pastor Lessman for the ministrations of God spoken through your mouth in the form of the historic liturgy.

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