On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Monday, December 30, 2013

Heaven on Earth: A Book Review

An author myself, I am keenly aware of fine writing, and writing which brings new light to a well-worn subject is particularly interesting to me.  Recently, I was privileged to view a video presentation by the author of the book I will be reviewing.  It was such an informative discussion on the subject, I wanted to read the book itself.  From that, I considered the message worth repeating. And though some might look at this and see it is mainly concerned with Lutheran liturgy, in a sense the book applies to virtually all Christian liturgies that follow a prescribed Biblical form of worship.  

Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service by Arthur A. Just Jr., may be found tucked away on church library shelves among other resource books.  It contains a thorough, historically accurate discussion on the roots and purpose of Lutheran liturgy, in particular, and even the liturgy of other churches whose origins may seem to be obscure. Not a dry, overly studious history, this book instead employs clear language and striking images to illustrate how liturgy has evolved and is practiced today.  And it is this traditional experience of Holy Communion which lifts us, Dr. Just asserts, into the realm of the transcendent God whom we find at the altar.

The Rev. Dr. Just of Concordia Theological Seminary, first shows how the Jewish worship traditions at the time of Jesus have influenced our own worship elements. He covers the first gatherings of smaller Jewish communities in homes which graduates to temple worship with more defined structure. Then he moves on to a change in the worship structure: the familiar “table worship” instituted by Christ himself.  Ultimately, Dr. Just details the apocalyptic nature of Christian worship that permeates the liturgy. 

It is through the Bible that we should understand how to undertake the sometimes disputed organization of the Divine Service, Dr. Just says. Despite or because of the “worship wars” in the church during the late twentieth century, Lutheran liturgy, as an obvious example, seems to have settled down to a new understanding of its importance to the culture of today.  Instead of trying to adapt the liturgy to a changing culture, we now understand the real role of liturgy is to bring the world into alignment with Biblical teachings. The impact of truthful interpretation of Scripture in our worship is critical, but the liturgy goes beyond a method to move through the service. Instead, Dr. Just calls the impact of our liturgy “a divine invasion . . . an alien invading our space.” 

As Christ himself broke through in his first incarnation, so does He break through from heaven to earth and back again in Holy Communion. Our liturgy of Divine Worship, then, is both physical and cosmic, says the author, and therefore apocalyptic, fulfilling its purpose to involve us in the mystery of the Creator “with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven.”

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