Monday, October 27, 2008

Free Liturgical Advice #4 - Do it; Don't Talk About it!

How many times to I have to say this? Who's listening? Anyone?

Don't preach another sermon at the Table before Communion. We've already heard one sermon; and it if it was a Presbyterian sermon, it was probably already much too long. Why do we need to hear another sermonette before the Supper? Enough talking. We don't need another extended explanation or invitation to the Table before the Lord's Supper. Just do the Supper as Jesus commanded.

Our tradition is so very screwy on this point. We feel like we have to "fence" the Table long and hard in order for the Supper to be effective, so that people will take it seriously enough. Even if we grant the need to take the Supper seriously, what makes us think that talking about it for 15 minutes before we pass out the food will actually make a difference? Presbyterians don't seem to be able to appreciate ritual unless every step is "explained" in the liturgy.

Besides, the Table is not all about us turning in on ourselves or even our individual devotional experience with the Lord. It's a social event, a ritual meal with other people!

It's no surprise to me that most Presbyterian and Reformed churches don't practice weekly communion. Who would want to endure such a protracted call to "serious" self-reflection and "genuine," "honest," "true," "real," "internal" appreciation of the Table every dang week? Not me.

Remember, I've argued against this kind of thing at length here. Perhaps I should serialize my talk at this year's PCA General Assembly and post it here on my blog.


John H said...

15-minute "table-fencing"? Yowch.

You could try replacing it with Luther's words from the Small Catechism (emphasis added):

Who receives this sacrament worthily?

Fasting and bodily preparation [and, one might add, "serious self-reflection" etc.] are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.

Todd W. said...

Brother, having experienced a 15 minute pre-communion sermonette last night (perhaps the same as you), I really appreciate your insight on this. We certainly have a way of explaining the power out of the eucharist.

I will say that I believe there is an appropriate type of sermonette, which might be given before communion. I attend a wonderful church in St. Louis, which celebrates the feast weekly. My pastors do a wonderful job of bringing the good news to our congregation at the table. Rather than explaining away, they use the opportunity to apply the gospel to the fallen condition focus of the sermon. At the table, they encourage us to receive Christ. It is always encouraging as we find ourselves empowered by the finished work of Christ.

Thanks again for your post - I'm glad I wasn't the only one thinking it.

JATB said...

It's not just the sermonette before Communion: EVERYTHING gets talked to death. I was in a PCA church not long ago where the "Assurance of Pardon" (I use quoted because there was no pardon in it, and I felt no assurance from it) consisted of reading an entire chapter from Hebrews, followed by a 15 minute harangue about "holiness." Yeesh.

When it's time to sing, let's sing. We have eyes. We can see the hymn number in the bulletin and/or on the hymn board. Don't insult us by saying "Now let's pick up our hymnals and turn to hymn number . . ." And please, no sappy "hymn stories" before we sing! When it's time to pray, pray! Emcees are for game shows, not worship services.

Jeff Meyers said...

Todd: I really wasn't thinking so much of the service this past week. The intro was a little lengthy, but didn't have the same kinds of problems I've noticed almost everywhere else, especially in presbyterian services

I'm mostly concerned about the super fencing of the Table with all sorts of warnings and calls to self-examination. The other problem is that when two or more ministers are officiating in a service often the one doing the intro to the Table feels the need to have his own little sermon before communion. That happens a lot in "tag team" liturgical leadership.

But honestly my post was not meant as a critique of last Sunday evening's service, which I thought was one of the better Reformation day services we've had in MO presbytery in many years.

Jeff Meyers said...

John: You are spot on correct about that. Ministers talk and explain way too much in our services. Let's worship, not talk about worship.

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

But when does instruction happen if not during the service? Yes, we could make folks come early or stay late for a liturgy lesson, but explaining along the way (as you rise up, sit down, etc., to borrow a verse out of context), especially when there's been a change, seems the way to go. I noticed that this past Sunday, when we had a visitor my pastor knew was not at all used to liturgical worship, he did a bit more explaining for her benefit (and I did a bit of whispering, since she was sitting next to me). Since visitors in particular are going to need a little extra help understanding what's going on, the explanation serves as a bit of translating of what will be to many a foreign liturgical language.

Jeff Meyers said...

I'm all for educating people. But it can't happen all the time. There are all sorts of places and venues to do this - Sunday School, evening church, DVDs, CDs, mp3s, pamphets, articles, conversations, books, etc. To explain things every Sunday because there's a visitor is overkill.

I went to an Episcopal church last Sunday where the liturgy was not readily accessible. I made it through. They even chanted Psalm 90. Amazing. It wasn't strong, but it was chanted. No one stopped to explain it. We just did it. I picked it up after a few lines. T

he amount of explaining that NEEDS to be done in Reformed liturgical churches is overrated. A little help from the person sitting next to you AND a well laid-out service bulletin can do everything you need. Reformed people OD on apologetics. We're always worried that everyone knows WHY we do everything we do.

For those who need explanation of WHY we do things, well, they can get that from the pastor himself in their home or with a pamphlet, booklet, book, mp3, etc.

JATB said...

"Reformed people OD on apologetics." What a great quote!

John H said...

@valerie: The liturgy is itself a form of instruction. In my childhood, I learnt more (as a choirboy) about the Christian faith from attending the weekly communion liturgy - saying the Nicene Creed and so on - and evening prayer than I ever learnt from direct, didactic instruction.