Guest article by Pr. Bruce Timm.
Previous article, reasons 1-3, found here.
Reason Number 4 for Using the Liturgy – They used the Liturgy in the Garden of Eden
It’s quite a bold assertion that Adam and Eve used the liturgy in the Garden of Eden. Let me explain what I mean by this seemingly outrageous claim. Adam and Eve lived on the gifts of God. They lived by His Word. God spoke both a promise and a curse to Adam and Eve. The promise of His Word was that they would live forever in a blissful marriage with each other and in communion with Him. God had given them everything necessary for life including the fruit from the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden. God’s curse (death) would only come if Adam and Eve would despise God’s gifts and take that which God had not given them. Should Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would die. They would return to the dust from which they were crafted. Life for Adam and Eve was found in the Word and the Sacrament (i.e., listening to His Word and eating that to which God had attached His promise.) No, they didn’t have page 151 in the Lutheran Service Book, but life was attached to hearing God’s Word and eating His food.
One example does not a pattern make. Did anyone else in Scripture live by God’s Word and Sacrament? Absolutely. A few years ago I lead my weekday Bible Study through the book of Leviticus. We have learned about the long lobe of the liver, the scapegoat, and the pleasing aroma of sacrifices to God. A week of our class rarely went by without me declaring “Leviticus is Lutheran.” God’s people of the Old Testament struggled as we do with sin and the temptations of the popular culture. They became unclean through their sins and contact with the pagan cultures around them. At first glance Leviticus seems to be all laws. Do this! Do that! But a thorough study reveals that God through His Words provides the way for His people to be clean, to return to Him, to be holy.
Leviticus is a book of God’s abundant grace. For every condition of uncleanness the Lord provides a way back to Him, a way back to being clean, a way back to the community of God’s people. Those ways were “sacraments” – physical elements connected to God’s Word with the promise of grace. All those animal sacrifices and that sprinkled blood and offerings were God’s means to sanctify His people (in view of Christ’s coming death). By His Word and Sacraments He cleansed His people of their sins. Leviticus has brought new meaning to this passage from 1 John (part of which we say each week before confession), “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 Jn 1:8-9. The Old Testament worship of Israel continued in the promised land and was centered in the Temple, where God was present among His people to cleanse them of their sins with the sacrifice of flesh and blood.
The New Testament Church was also a church devoted to the liturgy of Word and Sacrament. St. Luke describes the worship of the earliest Christians. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Act 2:42 What did the earliest Christians do in their worship? They listened to the Apostles’ teaching of Christ’s death for sins. They joined together with fellow believers in congregations. They broke the bread of the Lord’s Supper and received their risen Savior in His body and blood. They prayed for the world and those in need. They loved because Christ loved them. The liturgy brought them Christ and life and forgiveness.
If you examine the liturgies of the Church you will find they have these two parts. After the confession, the first chief part of the liturgy is a service of the Word in which we hear the preaching of the Prophets (Old Testament), Apostles (Epistles) and Evangelists (Gospel readings). That Word reveals life to us. Our life is in the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The cross is the Tree of Life that Adam and Eve lost access to in the Garden of Eden. Our preachers proclaim “Christ and Him crucified” to us. Then after the service of the Word comes the service of the Sacrament. God graciously invites us to eat the body and blood of Christ – the very body and blood that was sacrificed and now lives and reigns in heaven. This liturgy is our life. To be apart from Christ and His Word is to be apart from life. So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. Jn 6:53-56
The people of God live in and by the liturgy – hearing God’s Word and receiving His sacrament. We don’t use the liturgy simply because God’s people used it. We use it because God’s Word and Sacraments bring us the gifts of Jesus – fruit from the tree of life, the tree of the cross.
Next week’s reason for using the liturgy: Reason #5: The liturgy teaches the young and sustains the old.