Liturgical Boot Camp

When is the last time you saw the word “liturgical,” in the same sentence with “boot camp”? Initially they don’t seem to have anything in common but upon further investigation this belief might change.

Yes, the increase of physical endurance and strength is a goal of boot camp. But there is more, much more of even far greater significance. One of the primary purposes of this famed US Military rite of passage is to break down the individual so that a new identification is constructed. These soldiers in training become fellow comrades who are your new family, life, and your very survival in a hostile environment. A new culture and identity form who you are and replaces former loyalties. This is directed by the drill sergeant and other authorities.

In the steamy hot sauna of Fort Lenard Wood, Missouri the usual complaints were being heard from the recruits. “This is hard, it is new, and certainly it is useless—can’t we do something a little more enjoyable?” In time the greatest dismissive ever to be spoken by a member of the young generation came to be heard; “this is boring—it’s the same ole’ stuff, never anything new.”

It wasn’t too long before the drill sergeant was in their face giving these recruits a piece of his mind. “You are right this is boring, and it certainly is repetitive.” The sergeant went on to exclaim: “When lead is flying at two thousand feet a second you won’t have time to think or decide anything. I want you to instinctively react and do what you are learning so you live another day!”

Certainly all human analogies to the Gospel fall short—but there are some parallels. Sunday after Sunday the Divine Service has but one purpose: to deliver the victory of Good Friday to the hearer. And yet how often do we in the West hear and even say the Divine Service is, well, boring, … there, I said it! It is repetitive and without a whole lot of variance and change even among the seasons of the Church Calendar.

Like the young recruit who is the center of his world there are times when the baptized — pastors as well as priests — believe they are masters of their own destiny. But in this transitory life things more dangerous than pieces of airborne lead are seeking our demise. Try: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

How often and suddenly is the “normalcy” of life interrupted by a life-endangering car accident, the dread of diagnosed cancer, a faithless spouse or a wayward child? As terrible as these certainly are there is an even more pernicious enemy seeking to devour us and he comes swiftly and ferociously in the guise of false doctrine. In these instances and more you don’t have time to think or decide anything. We flee and cling to what we learned in the liturgical boot camp of the liturgy.

When the doctor announces in somber tones the dreaded news of cancer your spirit falls back on what you learned in boot camp and you confess the gospel saving beauty of the Kyrie:

“Lord, have mercy upon us,
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us” (LSB, Kyrie, p. 186).

And He certainly does as He distributes Himself to us in His life-giving gifts. And so as you thank your earthly medical doctors for their sincere help your heart is looking and trusting in Him who truly saves; the Physician of our souls.

In the college dorm or the neighborhood summer block party you are be pressured by the spirit of ecumenism which says there are many paths to heaven and all are available to you. But you are saved from this deadly pestilence and your faith is strengthened from what you learned in liturgical boot camp when Holy Spirit draws to mind what you confess the Gloria in Excelsis;

O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Thou that takes away the sin of the world, receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
For Thou only art holy; Thou only art the Lord (LSB, Gloria in Excelsis, p. 187-189).

There is only one God; and He is true and Triune, and He, motivated by unspeakable love took away our sins on Calvary, in our Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Blessed Sacrament and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed. The only true God is the one who came in the flesh, born of Mary, “Thou only art the Lord” and your faith is saved, and what is more, strengthened.

With guile worthy of venom “friends” tell you that you eat only bread in communion so you may remember Christ, and drink, well, … these days grape juice, so you can remember what Jesus has done for you. The arrows and flaming darts of filthy spirits fly far faster than any man-made propellant. But the Scriptures memorized in liturgical boot camp come quickly to your aid.

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
have mercy upon us.
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the World,
grant us Thy peace. Amen (LSB, Agnus Dei, p. 198).

In the Agnus Dei the three-fold Confession confesses the Thrice Holy God. After John the Baptist baptized Jesus he pointed Jesus out to his disciples by saying these words. We do not sing these words to the Lamb of God who is in heaven, or who at one time walked on the earth. We sing these words specifically towards Christ who is on the Altar; in the bread and wine teaching us rightly and steering us away from law-oriented symbolic language to soul-saving gift language.

These gifts and more are found throughout the Ordinaries of the Divine Service. The historic liturgy proclaims Christ as giver of gifts to rescue our souls from fear, doubt, and false teaching as the misfortunes of life and flaming arrows of the evil one fly towards us. Cherish what you continue to learn in liturgical boot camp for in the Divine Service you are being strengthened and equipped to leave a piece of Eden and re-enter the world in your vocation of service. And oh, one more thing. Thank Jesus for faithful drill sergeants who put you through liturgical boot camp. Thank your pastor.

About Pastor Karl Weber

Karl has been serving St. Paul’s Richville LC and St. John’s, Ottertail, MN since Labor Day, 2004. He was raised in the Roman Church receiving his BA from Fordham University. Before going to seminary he was a computer programmer in Minneapolis. He served as a short term missionary in Guatemala and Kenya, East Africa. He spent time as a member of the ELCA and studied two years at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN pursing his M. Div. before transferring to the LCMS for theological reasons and continuing his studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. He was ordained in 1991 and earned his D. Min. in May 2002 from the same institution. He has contributed study notes to The Lutheran Study Bible. He enjoys deer hunting, going to the gym, swimming, and reading. He is married to Mary and has five wonderful children.


Liturgical Boot Camp — 6 Comments

  1. I have enjoyed this article … I have one “nit”

    O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takes away the sin of the Word, have mercy on us.

    ==> I assume you meant … “sin of the world”

  2. # 1 Ed,

    Thank you for pointing out my need to proof read even better. Also, thank you for the kind words.

  3. Great analogy! “A new culture and identity form who you are and replaces former loyalties.” I think this is an important point with which to counter the “Burger King – have it your way” worship stylists. We are to be “in the world but not OF the world.” And your examples of how the words ingrained in us by the Divine Service provide strength in the face of sudden trials are excellent as well. Thank you for writing about this!

  4. Pr. Weber,

    I’m a “steadfast” Lutheran who run the base newspaper at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Imagine my surprise seeing your analogy… Do you have ties here?

  5. Mike # 4
    No, but my son went through boot camp there and my wife and I went to the graduation ceremonies Sept., 25, 2008.

  6. On the other hand, if we sent our soldiers back to boot camp half a day every week for their entire military careers, we might have a few seeking honorable discharge.


    I grew up with the traditional setting now called LSB Divine Service Setting Three and have participated in it gladly for much of my adult life. About a year or so ago I noticed that we seemed to be asking for mercy a lot. So I simply counted:

    1. In the Confession, we appeal to God’s mercy.
    2. Moments after the absolution is given, in the Kyrie, we ask for God’s mercy three more times.
    3. In the Gloria we ask for God’s mercy twice again.
    4. After being assured by the Gospel in the sermon we nevertheless quickly remind ourselves of God’s ability to punish, pleading for mercy implicitly in Offertory by saying, “Cast me not away from Thy presence…”
    5. In the Agnus Dei we ask for God’s mercy two more times.

    It’s not until the Thanksgiving near the end of the service that we affirm, “His mercy endureth forever.” By the close of the service we have appealed for mercy nine times and affirmed it just once.

    Despite my appreciation for this liturgical setting for many years, it now sounds to me like we have difficulty accepting “Yes” for an answer!

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