Liturgy, and All That Jazz
Here at Alexandria Presbyterian Church (located, unsurprisingly, in Alexandria, Virginia), it was decided – I feel the passive justified as I do not know who made the decision – that on this coming Sunday, as it will be Christmas day, the service would be held in the evening. Similar decisions have no doubt been made elsewhere.
I am of two minds. The latent liturgicist within me protests that this is not a thing which is appropriate: that a piece of existence as important as the worship of the Lord by his saints should not be moved lightly aside to make way for other things, no matter how important, like family, in earthly terms – and goes on further to suggest that on Christmas of all days corporate worship should be not just present but a priority, as we find it on Easter Sunday.
The Hidebound Protestant, on the other hand, drags out dusty verses (or actually not that dusty, unless we go looking for one of the translations I have but do not use regularly) about not being bound to observe days, and the Sabbath being made for man: if in fact it is more convenient for the people of God to gather at an unusual time for one week out of the year (or even to skip services altogether, as happens occasionally when forced by blizzards, floods, fires, wars, and other disasters), why should there be anything wrong with that?
When I moved to Alexandria, I attended for several months at the Lutheran church one of my roommates attends, for various reasons: convenience, some misconceptions about APC (gathered I am not sure how), and some misgivings about Presbyterian polity (which still exist, but currently seem less important at the moment). Immanuel celebrates an extremely high church service, which I found beautiful: but when after that I first went to APC, I found myself actually welcoming the praise choruses I tend to make fun of.
Mind you, I still make fun of them: musically speaking, they are most often not good. The lyrics are often, even mainly, insipid. But what they unquestionably are, at the very least by contrast, is joyful, emotional, expressive. I am not exactly complaining about the liturgy of the Lutheran church in itself (although I found the hymns settings still jarringly Germanic); I found the service insistent, in a way often forgotten in other churches' presentations of worship, on the grace of God; but with this insistence there also seems to come a division.
The visual example may be the clearest: Immanuel has a rail around the communion table, and calls that table an altar; APC has no rail, and calls it a table. Bearing in mind that at Christ's death the curtain protecting the Ark itself – God's presence – was torn, there seems no question to me which more accurately represents how God would have us approach him. (As an aside, I have been reading lately on the history of the early church and find it strange how quickly the church "progressed" from the Ethiopian eunuch's "why should I not be baptized" to requiring months and years before new converts (or repentant heretics) were brought completely into the fold: this desire to "protect the altar" (my phrase) is hardly a new problem for Christianity.)
If then we live not just "under" grace (as before under the law), but in Christ we live in and by grace – go ahead, move the service. I can find no harm in it.