After the service, grab your coffee and head down to the Hoffmeister Room for the Summer Adult Sunday School program.
On December 26, Helen, Marian, James, and I drove down to the Panhandle of Florida to celebrate the Christmas season at my sister’s house with our extended family. Google says that trip should take 13 hours and 14 minutes. But of course that’s just driving time. Google doesn’t take in to account stops for refueling, food, and other necessities. It also didn’t know about the 45-minute traffic jam between Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama, at least not when we were initially planning our trip. It also didn’t know that I would take a wrong turn after a stop for gas and to change drivers. (The sign said 69 North and I knew I didn’t want to be going north. It also said 24 East, but I didn’t notice that until it was too late.) And when you take a wrong turn in that part of Kentucky you get to drive an extra 18 miles. We took two cars from our house, because James had plans to drive back before the rest of us so that he could meet Peace Corps friends in Nashville for New Year’s Eve. And then we met up with my parents and sister and her kids coming from St. Louis, also in two cars. So, in the words of that old 1970s hit, we had ourselves a convoy.
The point of the trip is to reach the destination, and driving is a lot cheaper than flying, especially considering all the stuff we wanted to bring along with us. But the trip is also part of the fun. The way it worked out this time with changing drivers, I got to spend several hours of one-on-one time with Helen, James, and Marian each. Marian and I started out together in James’ car with her driving. Helen drove our car while James slept. He had just come off a 12-hour shift at Carle and didn’t manage to get any sleep before we got up at 3:00 a.m. to get on the road by 3:45. So, with clear skies, Marian and I watched Venus rise, and then Jupiter. I also tried to spot the “Christmas comet” (46P/Wirtanen), until I figured out it was no longer bright enough to be viewed without a telescope. We might have had a chance to see Mercury just before dawn, but by the time I thought to look the sky was too bright. (Mercury is hard to see because it stays so close to the sun. The conditions have to be just right – clear skies and a decent view of the horizon). We also listened to the soundtrack of Hamilton, which Marian has seen but I haven’t. I also hadn’t listened to the entire soundtrack all the way through. Se we each got to share something that we were passionate about with each other.
Then we switched drivers. Helen took over driving James’ car, and I drove ours, with James still trying to get some sleep. There wasn’t much talking on that leg of the trip, but we were back together at the end, when I listened to a couple of stand-up comics that he’d been wanting me to hear. Especially good, I thought, was Hasan Minhaj, and his extended story of his upbringing as the son of immigrants. We also got to talk some, when he wasn’t sleeping.
But before that, Helen and I also ended up together, with each of us driving for a while. We got back to a mystery novel set in Ireland that we started two years ago during our trip to Denver and never finished. We had to start it over again because we’d pretty much forgotten everything. But then as we listened to it again, it started coming back to us. We hope to finally find out “who done it.”
It struck me me toward the end of our trip what a nice day it had been, even if those 16 ½ total hours, door to door, were also rather grueling. Having someone to share the journey with can make a big difference. That is true for a long road trip, but it is also true for our journey through life. And then I though, because it was still Christmas after all, and only the second day, that that is also what the incarnation is about, at least in part. God comes among us as one of us in Jesus Christ to accompany us in this life, to be present with us throughout our lives through the gifts of Word and Sacrament, but also in the fellowship of the faithful, what Luther called the “mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters in Christ.” As this newsletter goes to print (or e-mail), it is still Christmas. I hope you will give thanks in this season for the gift of companionship in its many forms, and that in giving thanks, you will be inspired to make the most of your journey through life in this New Year.
+ Pastor Chris Repp
This is the sixth installment in a series on the sections of our weekly worship service. (See the June – September and November editions of the newsletter for the previous installments.) My intention for this series is to help you better understand not only what we do in our worship service, but also why we do it.
The Sending portion of the liturgy is easily the shortest in terms of time spent, and it might seem to be relatively unimportant. We’ve gathered, heard God’s word, responded in song, prayer, and creed, shared the peace, collected our offering, and experienced Christ present to and for us in Holy Communion – what can be left to do? Doesn’t that cover it all?
Only if there is no connection to what we do in worship and the rest of our lives. But of course there is a connection, and that’s exactly what the Sending portion of the service is all about. Having been reconnected to God through word and sacrament, encouraged and strengthened in faith, fed and forgiven together with our sisters and brothers in Christ, we are now sent out to be Christ’s presence in and for the world, sharing God’s reconciling love with all we encounter in our daily lives.
The first item in the Sending portion of the service each Sunday at Grace is the sending of Communion to those who are not able to be with us – those who are hospitalized, homebound, or in other care facilities. Bread and wine from what was just distributed is put into a communion kit that is taken to them by a lay minister or by me. It’s important to know that this important way of caring for our fellow members is not something that only the pastor can do. Just as we have lay assistants and acolytes who help with the distribution of Communion in our worship space on Sunday mornings, so we have lay assistants who help continue the distribution to those unable to attend. We are, effectively, extending the table so that all can partake.
Next comes the blessing. As we are sent out, we go with the promise that God goes with us, at work in and through us in our daily vocation. We are not saying goodbye to God until next week. God is going out with us to bless, keep, and empower us for faithful living.
The sending hymn that follows often reflects the significance of our sending, making a connection with our worship and our daily life.
Then come the announcements. If you’ve been at Grace for more than a year or two, you’ll remember that the announcements were not always done here, but rather earlier in the service. But if you think about it, they really fit the theme of what happens in the Sending better than in any other part of the service. As we are being sent back out into the world we are given concrete examples of what “go in peace, serve the Lord” can look like. We are given reminders of service projects, congregational functions, and other items relevant to our community of faith. We try to keep these verbal announcements short and to get most things the congregation needs to know into the written announcements in GraceNotes. Like the people of Israel eating the first Passover meal, we do this standing, ready to march!
And then we get sent out the door with the words, “Go in peace!” And so our worship continues throughout the coming week in all that we do.
+ Pastor Chris Repp
This is the fifth installment in a series on the sections of our weekly worship service. (See the June – September Pastor’s Corner for the previous installments.) My intention for this series is to help you better understand not only what we do in our worship service, but also why we do it.
I finished last time with the Eucharistic Prayer, but I did not say much about the prayer itself. So a few words about that before I move on to the distribution. In the earliest church it seems that the presider improvised a prayer of thanksgiving on the spot. One writing from the second century says that the presider prays this prayer “according to his ability,” which indicates that some were better at this than others! By the fourth century a standard pattern had evolved, which began with remembering with thanksgiving all of God’s saving deeds throughout history. It continued with the words of institution, specifically remembering the last supper and Jesus words there. These words are taken from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. This is then followed, historically, by offering the bread and wine as a sacrifice to God, a calling down of the Holy Spirit into the elements, intercession on behalf of those who will receive the sacrament, and finally a doxology praising the triune God.
At the Reformation, Luther removed most of the Eucharistic prayer, leaving only the words of institution. These were no longer said as a prayer, but as a proclamation to the assembly. Luther did this because he rejected the idea that Holy Communion is a sacrifice we offer to God, and the medieval Eucharistic prayer was full of sacrifice language. Luther insisted that, on the contrary, Holy Communion is something that God does for us. In modern times, beginning in the 1950s, Lutherans have restored the Eucharistic prayer to the liturgy, but without any reference to sacrifice. The only hint of sacrifice in our prayers these days is mention of us offering our thanks and praise to God. (See Psalm 116.) The words of institution have been returned to their earlier place within the Eucharistic prayer, addressed to God as the culmination of God’s saving deeds that we give thanks for. There continues to be an option in the ELW (as in the LBW) for only using the words of institution instead of the Eucharistic Prayer. We exercise this option at Grace during the Sundays in Lent.
The Eucharistic prayer is followed immediately by the Lord’s Prayer, and then by an invitation to the table. (“The gifts of God for the people of God.”) You will have noticed that the distribution of Communion is done in two different ways at Grace. The early service uses continuous communion while the late services uses “tables,” where those who commune come up to the altar rail. Neither way is better, or more correct, though the “tables” practice has a long history in the Lutheran church. What is important is that the sacrament is offered “in both kinds,” and that the words, “the body/blood of Christ for you” are said to each person. What is meant by “both kinds” is that both the bread and wine are distributed to all who commune. This may seem unnecessary to mention, until you realize that at the time of the Reformation the normal practice in the western church was to give lay people only the bread. And if you have ever attended a service at a Roman Catholic church, you may have seen that this practice still continues in some parishes, even though the 2nd Vatican Council in the 1960s encouraged distribution in both kinds. This is one of the reforms that Luther advocated, following the lead of the 15th century Czech reformer, Jan Hus.
Most important for Luther, though, were the words, “the body/blood of Christ,” and “for you.” Let me explain. One of the key historical differences between Lutherans and other Protestant groups that separated from the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation has been in their respective understandings of the nature of Holy Communion. Most Protestants have understood the bread and wine to be merely symbols of Christ’s body and blood, and believe the main thing we’re doing in Communion to be remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Luther, however, insisted that the bread and wine in this sacrament are truly (literally!) the body and blood of Christ. This is something Luther did not want to change. What he objected to in the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, which was only 300 years old in Luther’s day, was its dependence upon ancient pagan philosophy in its explanation of how the bread and wine were Christ’s body and blood. Luther thought they tried to say too much. He preferred to say that Christ’s body and blood were present “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine. But, importantly, truly present! This makes Holy Communion, for Lutherans, a significant and very personal instance of the gospel promises. To each person is proclaimed the good news that Christ is here for you – unconditionally, “believe it or not,”1 for you and for your salvation, to forgive you, reconcile you with God, and give you life that really is life. And because we do this in community, we hear those same words said to the people next to us, or in front of and behind us in the case of continuous Communion. We are in this together.
Where will such marvelous good news lead us? Stay tuned next month for a consideration of the Sending portion of the liturgy.
+ Pastor Chris Repp