I categorize the following as the semi-rational musings of a once pietist (childhood), once contemporary worship practitioner (first call) current devotee of traditional, Scriptural and Lutheran worship (last twenty years). I would advise against reading any further unless you have nothing better to do. If you do have nothing better to do and keep reading and finish the post and still have nothing better to do, be sure to drop a comment or two if I strike a chord.
When I was a kid I remember singing “There is A Green Hill Far Away” from the little green Children’s Hymnal published by CPH. Does anyone else remember that Sunday School hymnal?
I am a mentally challenged visual learner and so that little hymn stuck in my craw because it was so picture-packed. I can’t remember the last time I sang “There is a Green Hill Far Away” but each time we sing “Glory be to Jesus” (LSB #433) I am reminded of that little green hill, probably for at least two reasons. First, they are both very visual hymns and secondly, because it seemed like we sang “Glory be to Jesus” at every midweek Lenten service when I was growing up. It too stuck in my craw and is an indelible symbol of Lent for me.
I am no liturgiologist but my hunch is that neither of these hymns is considered musically sophisticated (probably another reason they made such an impression on this simpleton) and I think I remember somewhere even hearing liturgomaniacs criticizing one or both of these hymns. That’s OK. I respect liturgiologists and submit to them for the most part because they offer such a necessary correction for the narcissistic fire of contemporary worship that is still ablaze in our synod.
So where does the bowing and genuflection come in? For our morning Lenten service we do not have acolytes so the pastors fill in. A few years ago our cantor took over the acolyte program which has been a great blessing to our parish. He has taught them and us many wonderful things about acolyting. Since then, in addition to the traditional pietistic, Lutheran acolyte bow, we added in the even more traditional and liturgical Lutheran genuflect (not sure that word can be used as a noun). There are probably other ways to understand it but as our cantor taught us, we bow when the candles are not lit but genuflect once they are lit because then they are a symbol of the presence of the Light of the World in our midst.
So this morning, as usual, I lit the candles during the prelude, bowing at first and then genuflecting after the candles were lit. I did the same at the end of the service, only in reverse. The closing hymn was “Glory be to Jesus.” It was one of the few hymns that this attention-deficit child has memorized (just the first verse and an occaisional line from other verses). How wonderful that as I was genuflecting, while I was on one knee, I was singing glory be to Jesus! The glory of which I sang was put into action by the humble act of genuflection.
There actually is a point to all of this. When we first started having our acolytes genuflect there was a bit of hesitation as we wondered about the typical Lutheran reaction – “that’s too Catholic.” That liturgically lacking attitude harkens back to my “Green Hill Far Away” days. The parishes I grew up in would have never thought to have acolytes genuflecting and if they did I am sure they would have rejected it as too Catholic. This is what I now consider to be the “Green Hill Far Away” worship culture, not only because I associate that hymn with that era of my life but also because there is a certain lack of liturgical adornment to both that song and that era.
So both worlds came together for me this morning with genuflecting while singing “Glory be to Jesus.” Genuflecting and other liturgical adornment are appropriate and fitting glory for the Lord Jesus. Not only that, they are Scriptural as I was later to discover. Read the book of Revelation and you will find people bowing, genuflecting, wearing robes and sashes, lighting candles and practicing all other sorts of liturgical adornment. Glory be to Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria.