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Learning, Liturgy, and Life

When our Lord Jesus Christ ordained and sent His disciples into the world, He gave them clear marching orders. He said, “All authority that is in heaven and on earth was given to me. [Therefore], go and make disciples of all the nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, by teaching them to guard all things which I commanded you [to guard]. And behold, I am with you all your days, until the consummation of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

This confession of the Church and her work is simple… but it’s not easy. Baptizing is relatively straight forward. Water and God’s name applied, and the gift given. We add rites and rituals to confess the truth, making it seem more complicated. But the core confession is simple and seemingly easy. Water joined to God’s Name.

That is until we recognize that Jesus joins Baptism with “teaching them to guard all things which I commanded you.” Teaching is not so easy as baptizing. It’s intensive and challenging. And this teaching is extensive, as Jesus says, “all things which I commanded you.” What does Jesus include in “all things?” Briefly, that’s the Scriptures! 

Included is everything from Genesis to Revelation, from Adam to the new Adam, from famous figures like Moses and David, from lesser-known figures like Habbakuk and Apollos, from histories, prophecies, Psalms, and Proverbs. It’s simple, but it’s not going to be easy. This expansive teaching is going to take time, effort, intentionality, and persistence. 

He’s not just talking about teaching stories, or moral lessons, or even doctrines. Included in “teaching them to guard all things” are His commands and promises which He gives through the Spirit: the Commandments, Baptism, the Prayer, Absolution, the Office of the Keys, the Supper. It’s simple. Know the Small Catechism and its explanations, thereby guarding the Word and gifts Christ freely gives. But it’s not easy. 

How well do you remember your Catechism? Think about it. We don’t keep the Commandments nor can we confess them. Baptism was received freely and now is often forgotten. We neglect our prayers, failing to call on the Lord in every need, or time of praise, or with thanksgiving. We refuse to forgive even though we’ve been forgiven. The Lord’s Supper is our Sabbath meal. But we’ll skip it, fasting from Christ’s body and blood, fasting from forgiveness, and life, and salvation? It’s simple, but it’s not easy. 

Our sinful flesh pushes back, demanding innovation, change, reduction, abbreviation, or omission. Our flesh is always looking at its watch, is prone to boredom, is easily distracted, and is fickle and discontented. Without restraint, we’ll substitute our means and rituals and worship for those which we’ve received. Simple faith, yes, but it’s not easy “to guard all things.”

The nature of our sin is why the Church, in her wisdom, has given us orders of service, means of worship, or the liturgy. Our predecessors in the faith are even today “teaching [us] to guard all things” as we pray with them and in the same manner as them through our hymnal. Every generation’s prayer, confession, and the song has been honed and refined by the Holy Spirit, and then handed on to their children. This refining is means by which we received the Lutheran Service Book, our hymnal containing millennia of well-honed prayers, Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

That’s why in our liturgy, Baptism, the Word, and all the Lord’s appointed gifts are given freely, without exception, week in and week out. In our liturgy, the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity. In our liturgy, our prayers and song are given to confess that same Word of God. In our liturgy, “all things” that the Lord Jesus gave are kept and guarded as He commanded. He gives us all things by His Word, and we receive. We receive and have all that He promised. 

And Jesus gave us this wonderful promise, attached to our Baptism and the teaching of the Holy Spirit: “And behold, I am with you all your days, until the consummation of the age.” Jesus promises His abiding presence where two or three are gathered in His Name, by His Baptism, around His Word, to receive His gifts, all by His Spirit. And where He is gathering each of us unto Himself, there we have Him and with Him everything that is His.

Most importantly, we have His life. This life is given to each. And as we are all joined to Jesus, we are also joined to one another. The life we receive is the life that we share. We share in each other’s joys and burdens, thanks, and sorrow. We have all things in common, caring for each other in their need, comforting those who grieve, supporting those who fall, visiting those who are lonely.

It’s all simple, but it’s not easy. We are learning to guard all that Jesus has commanded us to defend. Speaking, singing, and praying to guard the gifts He gives. We live together with Christ in the life He gives through His gifts. Simple, not easy, but it is good.

+Pastor Christopher Gillespie