Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is The Liturgy Vain Repetition?

Wednesday after Pentecost 8
July 21, 2010

The Lord be with you

When I was much younger I had friends that thought churches that used the historic liturgy were spiritually dead. They just couldn’t see any value in the “empty” ritual. Using the same words each week was often referred to as “vain repetition.” I have not spoken to anyone that spiritually naive in a long time. (Well, I guess that isn’t so. The people I talk to who think they can be “just as good a Christian” without regularly worshiping with the people of God would at least be close cousins, and I do meet such people.) But I digress. The topic I’m writing about is the value of the historic liturgy.

I have a class coming up this August at Gardner-Webb University. It is The Ministry as Life Long Learning. We have a few books we need to read before class begins, and I just finished one: How To Think Theologically by Howard Stone and James Duke. While I have my own experiences that support the positive spiritual value of the liturgy, a story in the last chapter of this book really grabbed me. I hope it strengthens your understanding of the value of liturgical services.
    It is a mistake to underestimate the spiritual potential of repetition. Your mind may drift, but each time you repeat the words and acts of worship they become a part of you. The late Karl Rolvaag, a former governor of Minnesota, once preached a sermon at a country church near his cabin in the north woods. He told of his personal spiritual journey and of his recovery first from alcoholism and then from a near-fatal automobile accident. The pastor of that country church traveled over two hundred miles to his hospital bed, where he lay injured and in a coma from his accident. She offered the service of Holy Communion. His lips began to move along with hers as she read the ancient words. He wept, he spoke, he raised his hand to receive the bread and wine. His rote repetition of those words and actions over the course of many years had implanted them in his being, and they broke through the barrier to consciousness when nothing else could. Theology became life. (126)
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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