Wednesday, March 2, 2011
You ARE Being Fed!
This is especially obvious when people lodge this complaint from within a traditional, liturgical Lutheran congregation, where the Holy Word and Sacraments are delivered faithfully and reverently on a continual basis. It is not that they are not being fed; it is, rather, that they long for a different meal. This can only be due to the fact that they do not understand what actually takes place in the Divine Service - or have forgotten.
In the Divine Service, our Lord comes into our presence, as He promised ("Lo, I am with you always"), to feed His flock with the richest of Foods. He first serves us with His Holy Absolution upon the confession of our sins, assuring us that our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Simply delicious! Having been forgiven of our sins, we enter the sanctuary of our Lord, singing the Introit (Psalm, Entrance Hymn) and pleading with Him to have mercy upon us in the Kyrie, to which our appetite is further quenched with the glorious song of the angels, wherein we hear that we have received the mercy for which we plead in the Incarnate Son of God, born into our flesh to bear our sins and be our Savior (Gloria in Excelsis). Scrumptious! Next, we petition our Lord in the Collect (Prayer) of the Day to strengthen our faith, and He responds by filling us with the sweet honey of His Holy Word (Old Testament, Epistle, Gradual, Holy Gospel, Sermon). Divinely delectable! Already, our hunger is more than quenched. Already, in the Service of the Word, we have been well fed by our gracious Lord. But, with the Lord, there is always more!
So, He prepares a Table for us and invites us to dine of the Fruits of His Cross, which is our Tree of Life, serving us with His very Body and Blood, the Manna from heaven which sustains us as we make our way through the wilderness of this sinful world. No gourmet meal in the world can compare with this richest of Feasts! Our Lord prepares us for this Meal of meals by inviting us to pray for the whole people of God and for all people according to their needs in the Prayer of the Church, and by reminding us that He is Really Present among us in the Preface, Proper Preface, Sanctus, Lord's Prayer, and Verba, to which we respond with the words of St. John the Baptist and with the cry of faith in the Agnus Dei, "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us." You simply can't get any more fed than having Jesus Himself fed to you! Thus, do we sing with blessed Simeon in the Nunc Dimittis, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation . . ." We are simply stuffed full of Jesus at this point. But, again, with the Lord, there is always more!
Having received the Holy Meal of His very Body and Blood, He sends us on our way with His peace and with His blessing in the Benediction, assuring us that He has strengthened us and is with us as we go back out into the world. If we are not stuffed full with the delicious Food our Lord provides us in the Divine Service by the time we hear the Benediction, we must have an eating disorder, for there is surely nothing wrong with the Menu or the Waiter. You cannot possibly faithfully receive the rich Food our Lord serves up in the Divine Service and "not be fed." If you still feel hungry, it is not because you haven't been fed. Either something is amiss with your faith or you are longing for a different kind of "food."
The beauty of the Divine Liturgy is that it guarantees that you are fed by your Lord. Even if the pastor's sermon is especially bland that day, or the organist goofs up, or the choir doesn't sound the greatest, or you don't feel especially "inspired," and so forth, you can rest assured that your Lord has fed you - and fed you well! He always shows up to serve you with His Gifts. He is always faithful. He always feeds His flock in the Liturgy. You are never, ever "not fed" in the Divine Service!