Liturgy in the Dark

By Bob Hiller

This past Sunday, the power went out in our church while I was preaching. Perhaps it was an act of God trying to save His dear flock from my sermon or the devil trying to silence the Word. Or most likely, it was a problem with the power lines. Regardless, our congregation was left in the dark. We have screens in our sanctuary to guide the service, but they were gone. It was not easy to read the bulletins for the few who actually had them. Further, our recently purchased hymnals have not yet been stocked in the pews, so we couldn’t reference them. We had no music to sing with as both the organ and piano flows through the sound system. What were we to do? Just quit and go home? After all, it is tough to carry on in the dark.

But carry on we did. We continued in the dark and didn’t miss a beat. I finished the sermon, and we flowed seamlessly into the Creed, prayer, and service of the Sacrament. The members of our beloved congregation laughed about the dark, sang the songs, and prayed the prayers they do every week. Without the organ, we may have needed a little help starting on the right notes now and then, but we did it. We didn’t need screens, electricity, or even hymnals. The liturgy that orders our worship service is such a part of who we are as a congregation that we could laugh at the dark and continue to worship!

It got me thinking about how important the liturgy truly is to the Church. Far from disparaging stereotypes that depict it as archaic or rote, the liturgy is how the Lord’s Word is placed into the ears, hearts, and mouths of Christ’s flock. It forms and shapes who they are, how they speak, what they pray. Being that it is entirely composed of God’s Word, the liturgy is the place where the Potter is forming the clay. Participating in the liturgy is a disciplined practice (in the best possible sense) that informs the life of both the individual believer and the Church as a whole. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit equips the saints to face and fight the darkness.

There seems to be a lot of back and forth about the virtue of discipline in the Christian life. But it is a strange Christianity indeed that downplays the necessity of regular prayer, Scripture reading, and gathering around Christ’s preached Word and the sacraments. Far from a pietistic means of earning a better seat at the table, these pious acts are used by the Holy Spirit to prepare the saints for war with the world, the devil, and the flesh. God’s Word, after all, is the only thing that will sustain us in the darkness this unholy trinity imposes. Regular participation in the liturgy of the Church is how that sustaining Word gets becomes a part of who we are and readies us for battle. Like we sing in one of the greatest of all hymns:

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,

Steals on the ear that distant triumph song.

And hearts are brave again and arms are strong!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

For All the Saints; vs. 5 LSB #677

The liturgy is that distant triumph song in the present that makes us brave and strong, ready to fight no matter how dark the road ahead. It equips us with the weapons we need to face our foes. It gives us the light we need to stave off the dark.

A number of years back, a member of my former congregation was dying, and her husband called me over to pray with her. The darkness of dementia, it seemed, had conquered her mind and her body. I walked into a room where she was in her bed surrounded by her husband, children, and hospice nurses. In the darkness of this disease, she couldn’t tell the difference among them. Hours before she died, I held her hand, read Scripture to her, and prayed, uncertain if any of it registered. We then all joined together praying the Lord’s Prayer. At that moment, she spoke. No, that’s not right. In that moment the Holy Spirit brought her back to church and brought her the prayer Jesus both taught her to pray and had made a part of her being. This woman who couldn’t recognize her husband of over 60 years recognized this gift Jesus had placed in her mouth Sunday after Sunday. The light was shining in the darkness, and dementia could not overcome it.

It is hard to carry on in this dark world. But carry on we will. The Word shaped rhythms of the liturgy, of confessing and receiving, of hearing and singing, of being killed and raised to life, of praying and kneeling, of taking and eating, taking and drinking give us the light we need to make our way through this vale of tears to Christ Himself in heaven. May the Lord bless and keep us in His Word with His face shining upon us until that day so that we keep laughing and singing in the dark.