Written by Pastor Aaron Decker. Posted in Light and Life

My home pastor of many years, Rev. Norman Dresher, was one of those worship leaders who, in order to help deal with some of the confusion that Lutheran worship and worship books create for the uninitiated, gave directions for everything.  Almost too much so.  He wouldn’t say simply, “Our worship continues on page 105,” but, “Our worship continues with the offering hymn, located on page 105 in the front part of your green hymnal.”

It’s funny, though, how even small things like this can shape and inform one’s faith.  For our readings, my congregation subscribed to a publication from Augsburg Fortress called “Celebrate,” which simply printed the Bible texts on a single page, designed to be folded in half and tucked into the bulletin.  “Please read the psalm responsively with me,” Pastor Dresher would say, “as found on the inside of your Celebrate insert sheet.”  Thanks to his quirky over-direction, week in, week out, without fail, our worship was called a celebration.

I can’t say that the first word that comes to mind when I think of our Lutheran worship is “celebration.”  The liturgy is ancient, using forms that have been set and have changed little in over a thousand years.  Our hymns have gotten more exciting in the last decade or so, with new music from a variety of cultures and traditions; still, the hymns that lie most treasured on my heart are the old German and Swedish favorites, which I must admit are a bit sleepy despite their beauty.

This week, I’m in Oxford Charter Township, Michigan--a place so hidden away from civilization that even now in 2013, the town has yet to be officially incorporated.  It’s the location of North America’s only Lutheran monastery, and one of very few in the world.  Despite a heritage connecting it to the Missouri Synod, St. Augustine’s House welcomes Christians of every sort, and is maybe one of the few places on earth that ELCA, LCMS, WELS and other Lutherans can share the same Communion table.  It is is a beautiful place.

It’s been rainy these two days, so I haven’t spend much of it outside, exploring the wooded grounds.  But birds congregate around the feeder just outside the dining room, and the smell of Spring is heavy in the air.  The quiet of the day is interrupted by worship every three hours, according to the ancient tradition.  It’s a slow, methodical chanting of the psalms in the Gregorian style.  But this morning at Eucharist, despite the radical table fellowship, something seemed missing.

It was the celebration.  Here we are, three weeks into the season of Easter, and worship felt more like Ash Wednesday.  Don’t get me wrong; there is great beauty in the worship here, and I love it.  It makes my heart sing in a certain way.  But the joy is quiet, solemn, contemplative.  Contemplation is the purpose of this sort of monasticism.  But I do wonder, as the old song goes, “If Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can we keep from singing?”  Indeed, despite the contemplative tone, there is something of a celebration leaking out of the hearts of the handful of monks who live here.

Our weekly gathering around word and sacrament is nothing less than the Church’s celebration of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is not an entertainment, designed to attract people to the church; nor is it an obligation, something forced on us by elders who know what’s good for us.  It is a party, when the whole of God’s faithful people gather around the stories of faith and the Lord’s banquet table, and we cry out with joy for all the things God has done for us.  And so, whether slow, methodical, and contemplative, or bright, bouncy, and earthy, our worship is always a celebration.

Maybe that’s why I love Easter so much.  It’s the time of year when, at the beginning of every worship service that I lead, I get to shout out, in the most celebratory tones, “Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!”

He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Aaron

God of Life, sometimes my joy sings out loud with all the faithful.  Sometimes my joy simply whispers quietly upon my heart.  But wherever I am, may I always be filled with joy and celebration at the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.