Scripture Is Liturgy - October 20201
For some time now I have posited that as Liturgy is Scripture, Scripture is also Liturgy.
What does this mean?
Let us begin by asserting what Scripture is not.
To this author Sacred Scripture is not a record book of previous believers' interaction with God. It is not a history book (though ample history can be learned from it). It is not reportage, something written merely to inform, like a news report does. Divine Scripture not given us to satisfy our curiosity of what occurred back in the day. Nor is it not a compilation of the religious experiences of the people who are its subject.
But Scripture is, rather, the divinely inspired worship of God's people throughout the ages. In Scripture God sets before the church the prayers his faithful people prayed, the liturgies by which they worshiped, the confessions of faith they articulated, the hymns they chanted, the instruction by which they were to live at peace with man, and especially at peace with God – and this by the sacrificial system given to atone for sin which was prophetic of the cross.
Thus the church today should learn to think rightly about what Scripture is then she will know how to utilize it, and how to interpret it.
What is Scripture? It is out and out liturgy, full blown, and ready to use. When the church assembles her liturgies and sacraments from Scripture, and prays them, she now finds herself participating in the "communion of the saints."
At the center of the entire Christian enterprise is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; and our participation in it by baptism, and the Eucharist. Said more broadly by Liturgy which takes in the former. To liturgize God is to altogether empty ourselves of ourselves, and give ourselves altogether over to God, as Jesus did on the cross. That is liturgy.
Don't think "the" liturgy, as if it Holy Liturgy is an accessory to our faith, something outside of us to be quantified, analyzed and adjusted by the whims of the church. Liturgy is our faith in action; a circuit alive with the flow of divine electricity, and so simply think Liturgy, and drop the definite article. We might sometimes speak about "the liturgy" as the "format" we follow, that is the score, the notes, but there is music behind the notes. That is what Liturgy is, the Music. The New Song, Christ!
Some examples are in order.
The first three chapters of Genesis should be thought of as "The Liturgy Of Creation". What did the Old Testament church do with those chapters? Did she simply acknowledge the Holy Scroll and then lock it safely away, happy by its existence?
Or did they pull it out and pray it in their public worship on a regular cycle, in which it was chanted antiphonally; and around which prayers were prayed, hymns were sung, sermons were preached, and animal sacrifices made in imitation of God who sacrificed two animals, and used their skin to cover the shame, the sin, of Adam and the Woman?
What of the Exodus? It is a full blown prophecy of the world's salvation in Christ. Was the Exodus scroll simply read by priests whenever they wanted to study? Or was it locked away, keeping the people secure simply by its existence?
Not at all.
It was the Liturgy of the Sacrament of the Passover Celebration repeated
every year. (A liturgical year!) It, too, was no doubt chanted aloud, antiphonally. Moreover that it was surrounded by prayers, praises, thanksgiving, confessions of sins and of faith, hymns and above all the sacrificial meal: proleptic of the cross, the Eucharist and finally of the eternal Messianic Banquet in heaven to which we are all headed in Christ.
What of the Psalms? They are, likewise, out and out worship. Even extreme fundamentalists who hold strong anti-liturgical sentiment will admit that the Psalms were "the worship book of Israel".
They don't know how right they are! For the Psalms are not poetry as has asserted for nearly 400 years by critical scholars. But they are liturgy. Any one of which, or group of which, is an ecclesiastical MRE.
The same with the prophets. What we find therein is not their original sermons chronologically recorded from beginning to end. But a liturgy composed of their most important sayings, which were prayed by Israel in their worship. The prophets, like the Psalms, are almost entirely given us in liturgical format, ready to use. They should not be read as narrative, even in worship in my opinion, but antiphonally between clergy cantor and congregants.
What of New Testament liturgy?
The chief liturgy of the New Testament is the Eucharist, all others flow from it, and lead to it.
The Beatitudes, indeed the entire Sermon on the Mount can readily be prayed antiphonally, leading this author to believe that it was written that way, on purpose, under the Spirit's inspiration, for the church to pray; not simply to hear read in narration. They are included, e.g., as a regular segment of the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy prayed by nearly the entire Eastern church every Sunday.
And what of Matthew 24 and 25 the so-called end time prophecies of Jesus. These also nicely function as a liturgy, leading one to think that is how they were recorded for the church. Especially the Great Assize.
A few more examples: Romans 8:28ff. Colossians 1; John’s Prologue; Phil. 2:5ff; Rev. 1 – 3; the Magnificat; Nunc Dimittis;
But the examples run into the thousands; indeed if there is anything in Scripture that is not given us in liturgical formulation, it is the exception.
Again, Scripture is not simply religious reportage given the church so she might know what happened. But as Liturgy is Scripture, let us seriously consider the proposition that Scripture is Liturgy.
Let us, especially as Lutherans, take heed. We who view everything through a peculiar a pair of glasses: one lens academia, the other dogma. We, sadly, are unable to see the forest for the trees. And if asked to describe the forest, we do so by a description of its trees, rather than its vast, sweeping beauty, life and power that is the Forest.
One last point for pastors to consider.
The room in which you have your desk and books is not your office. Your office is the chancel. That is where you report to work each week. This being the case, and the fact that Scripture was given by God to be used: "in the church, by the church and for the church," consider doing you sermon prep seated in the chancel. I'd like to know the results.
All this said I conclude that the Bible has no life of its own apart from the church's worship of God. Any other utilization of it should either lead to our Worship, or proceed from it. But to try to comprehend Scripture apart from the "breaking of the bread" will always be a futile enterprise.
More in Pastor's Blog
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February 13, 2021There Is No Synoptic Problem
February 1, 2021Chrysostom On The Blood Of Christ Received In Holy Communion