Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creation & Worship

My Alma Mater, Concordia - St. Louis, seems to go through theological vogues. For quite a long while it was Two Kinds of Righteousness. One could step on to campus and find people saying "2KR" without a trace of irony as if Christians had always been using such an abbreviation for all of time, as if anyone who hadn't been attending class there in the previous five years would have any idea what they were speaking about, as if Luther himself defended SBGATFA all the time when he debated Eck.

The latest theological framework to be en vogue at CSL is this business about Creation. I'm finally catching up on reading through the Summer 2010 issue of Concordia Journal which includes a succinct manifesto on the topic of "Caring for God's Groaning Earth" from the faculty member who seems to be driving force behind the latest vogue: Dr. Charles P. Arand, the Chairman of the Systematics Department.

I had the pleasure of taking several classes from Dr. Arand during my time at St. Louis. He is a very learned man and a capable teacher. His name will live on for decades, if not centuries, for the work he did in helping the Kolb-Wengert edition of the Book of Concord to become a reality. He is especially well versed in the Apology and the theology of Melanchthon. As the chair of the department, Dr. Arand deserves special thanks for the 2007 statement against lay ministry issues by the systematics faculties of both seminaries.

As I said, the essay is succinct and will not take you long to read, and I encourage you to do so. Here I want to simply mention one thing I have found oddly missing in Dr. Arand's discussions of Creation and then reflect a bit on what Dr. Arand had to say about worship and creation.

First, the odd omission - in speaking of Creation I have yet to read Dr. Arand contend with, well, creation. It would seem to me that a uniquely Christian understanding of how we relate to Creation ought to include quite a lot of reflection on our belief that God created the world ex nihilo in six days. Surely, given this teaching, our way of caring for God's creation will differ from those who either believe the world is an accident or those Christians who reject a literal understanding of Genesis. I would very much like to hear Dr. Arand reflect on those differences.

Second, Dr. Arand says this about worship,

Where does creation find expression within the worship life of the church and its liturgy? Consider the church year. Where does creation receive attention? Currently, the first half of our church year rightly focuses on the life of Jesus. The second half of the church year focuses on the life of the church. These correlate with the second and third articles of the creed. But where does the first article of the creed (God's ongoing activity in creation) find a place within the church year? After all, without it we cannot properly grasp Scripture's account of redemption in Christ. We wouldn't have to call it "Earth Sunday." We could call it "Creation Sunday" or have a "Season of Creation." For that matter, how do our worship practices and rituals express our connection to creation as well as our care of creation? After all, practices often embody our values and our visions about what it means to live a fully human life.

Where to begin? The creation story is read out in its entirety at least twice every year in a Lutheran congregation that follows the Historic Lectionary (Trinity XXI and Easter Vigil). The lectionary also includes Jesus' command to preach to all creation in Mark 16 at the Ascension of Our Lord. Paul speaks of the renewal of creation in Romans 8 on Epiphany 4. We could go on and on. Read a little Francis of Assisi - he did alright on these topics without "Creation Sunday." The propensity of would-be contemporary liturgists to smack a "Concordia Sunday" here and an "LWML Sunday" there shows a lack both of imagination and understanding of the richness of the traditional lectionary.

What rituals show our connection to creation? How about The Rituals: the sacraments. Water, bread, wine, and the hands and voice of a man created in God's image and sent out to be an icon of the Christ who became a part of our creation specifically by becoming a Man.

Especially in the Lord's Supper do we find more than enough fodder for a proper Christian reflection on our connection to Nature. (The following observation is not original to me - but for the life of me I cannot find the essay where I learned it. I am pretty sure it is CS Lewis - if someone can find it, I'll be much obliged.) Jesus takes bread and wine and says them into being his Body and Blood. He does not use wheat and grapes. That is, bread and wine are techne, technology, the superadded work of men to the works of nature. Nature, you see, is not enough. Nature, devoid of her Lord, mankind, and devoid of some Word from the Lord is a closed book. Taking a bath isn't enough - without the Word of God it is plain water and no Baptism. Wheat isn't enough - some man must first grind it, some woman knead it and bake it. Grapes aren't enough - the stompers must stomp and the vintner add his yeast and mix it all in the right way, and store it in the right way, and only then can it be used by Jesus for his Supper. And the Word of Absolution must be spoken into reality by the vocal chords of a Son of Adam bending the air around him into the vibrating messenger of grace.

There is nothing deficient in the Church's liturgy and lectionary - no topic the Church has left out - no need for innovations to cover supposed lacunae. Here you will find the whole counsel of God presented to the people of God year in and year out. All it requires of the preacher/celebrant is the humility to learn from it and the imagination to hear it clearly. These are both gained by reading at least as much Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, and Chemnitz as Wendell Berry and Dave Bookless. And, hey, I like Wendell Berry.



  1. Earth Sunday should probably fall as close to Lenin's birthday, er, Earth Day as possible, right?

  2. I feel the same way about churches observing "Life Sunday."

  3. Katy,

    Fair enough - and to their credit Lutherans for Life does a nice job of putting out preaching aids that point out the pro-life themes in the lectionary throughout the year. I am no fan of setting aside the Church's lectionary for any other sort of observance.


  4. In the book "Already Gone" the argument is made that our young(er) folk though perhaps still physically present, are already absent in mind, heart and spirit which results in actual physical absence in due course. Why? They have not been given the means to fulfill the apostolic madate of I Peter 3:15 specifically as it relates to the first nine chapters of Genesis. Learning Bible stories without apologetics apparently does mroe harm than good. On the question of vaarious Sunday emphases, how can the Church not lament the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the culture of death that threatens to engulf us all by observing a Life Sunday?

  5. Paul,

    I can't speak for Katy, but my beef with "Life Sunday" is not combating the culture of death, but replacing the Church's lectionary with something else.

    At our parish this Sunday we will pray for the unborn, and the sermon will forthrightly feature pro-life themes from abortion to birth control to euthanasia, but it will all be done within the context of Epiphany 2, which happily has a wonderful text for this occasion: the Wedding at Cana.


  6. This thought isn't necessarily a criticism of Arand, except where it may be applicable, for I really don't know him. I think that one of the very dangers of seeing the high art of Theology in terms of systematizing (hence the seemingly subtle shift from dogmatics to systematics) is that it encourages the theologian to see the theological subject as an object on the labratory table, to stand over it, cut it into pieces, and show onself master over it, rather than learning to submit to it, see its integrity, and let it have its way with him.

    The former not only brings categories and divisions into theology which are questionable in their validity and value, but also brings the perennial temptation to create (ex nihilo, by the way) ever new and creative notions, distinctions, innovations, on top of the system. Thus Systematic Theology and Practical Theology have met; arrogance and innovation have kissed each other.

    The latter, by contrast, would have us learn to see our noble subject as a brilliant diamond. We seek to discover its many facets and their value, and we inherently know that 1. the diamond will not be improved, only cheapened, by our tacking something new onto it, and 2. it won't be good for anyone if the jewel gets hacked up and shattered into pieces, even with the best of intentions.

    The liturgy is one example where the theologian needs to learn to see himself as a churchman rather than as an expert who has new recommendations to make. The choice before the theologian (in this case the liturgist) is between sitting at the feet of the liturgical tradition (including the integrity of the liturgical year) on the one hand, and hacking it apart & supposing to offer improvements in this or that part of it on the other hand.

    Fr. Curtis is right on when he speaks of the ways in which our sacramental practice is an affirmartion of creation (which of course reminds me of Dr. Scaer's excellent essay by a similar title). Along with that, I suggest there is much in the ritual of the traditional liturgy that engages the senses, and affirms the goodness of God's creation, such as the beesewax candles and incense.

  7. Rev. Deacon,

    The beeswax! How could I forget? The prayers for the blessing of the candles at Candlemas, the palms on Palm Sunday, and the incense at Easter Vigil are indeed just the sort of affirmations of creation that Dr. Arand either overlooks or is ignorant of.


  8. Like Pr. C's post on Creation Sunday, I would argue that many feasts, festivals, and commemorations present in our Church calendar already observe life, directly or indirectly. (Bravo for Lutherans for Life for that above-mentioned resource.)

    It would be appropriate to include relevant and specific prayers (for troubled and expecting mothers, abortion doctors, politicians, those mourning an abortion, etc.) on the Sunday closest to RvW's anniversary. But I don't think a whole Sunday should be set aside.

    The first time I attended an LCMS church was on Life Sunday, and that was what the "sermon" was all about: how we should protect the unborn. A collection was made for the local PCC (in place of offerings for the church), and as we left, I was handed a flyer promoting pro-life politicians. What if there was a poor woman sitting in the pew, haunted by guilt and her baby's absence? She never heard forgiveness and comfort and the blood of Christ. Perhaps this bad experience has made me prejudiced.

  9. The traditional Easter Praeconium, I hasten to remind us, has a beautiful section on the beeswax, though it is probably left out of modern rites. When the deacon lights the Paschal Candle, he continues chanting:

    Which fire, though it be divided into parts, yet knoweth no diminution of its light. For it is nourished by the fluid wax which the mother bee hath produced for the material of this precious torch. etc.

  10. The sheer physicality involved with the traditional liturgy also has an incarnational, and thus a creation affirming, quality. We bow; we bend the right knee; we bend both knees; we make the sign of the cross with the right hand over the head, chest, and shoulders; we make the sign of the cross with the thumb over the forehead, lips, and heart; we open our mouth to confess; we open our mouth to receive. It is a rich topic, a topic, however, of which synod agencies & worship committees are particularly unworthy.

  11. Agreed with both Pr. H R & Katy on using appropriate prayers, preaching on the lectionary, etc. Thank-you Dcn Gaba for the blessed mother bee:) Our theologians could learn much from her as well.

  12. Dr. Arand's thoughts about a "Creation Sunday" take my mind back to the Rogationtide ceremonies that take place during the week of Easter 6. However, the LCMS and other Lutherans have appeared to lose this tradition, so one may have to turn to the Church of England/Episcopal Church for resources--assuming proper discernment.

    The prayers and ceremonies used in Rogationtide would meet some of the goals that Dr. Arand put forward. The psalms and canticles include the Song of Creation ("All Ye Works of the Lord"). Litanies of the Church include statements about creation. There are also prayers for faithful stewardship and good harvest. Blessings on gardens, fields, and orchards show that the creation is God's domain through which He providentially cares for all people--rain on the good and evil alike.

    Perhaps appending a Rogation Ceremony to the Divine Service/Morning Prayer on Easter 6 or holding a Vespers service on that evening (or that Wednesday evening) would be a way to fulfill Dr. Arand's suggestion. Perhaps this is a way of using the Western Church's tradition to meet a contemporary desire.

  13. " For that matter, how do our worship practices and rituals express our connection to creation as well as our care of creation? " -- Dr. Arand

    Generally, the connection is made when the Lutheran priest gently sends us laitical rascals out the door ... with the assured blessings, the promised keeping, and the magnificent shining countenance and graces of the Triune Lord.

    Call me Lutheran, but methinks that in our vocations we have six days (out of seven!) to connect with and nurture creation ... which precious entity includes our "neighbor," as well as our surrounding "nature."


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