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The Liturgical Year

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When people ask me what is unique about Lutheran worship, I will often respond by noting its Christocentric nature.  That is, everything about Lutheran worship points to Christ, whether in the hymnody, liturgy, texts, preaching, or the shape of the Sunday or the season. One of the ways in which this Christocentricity is manifest is through the liturgical year; beginning at Advent and ending with Pentecost, we not only recall but reenact liturgically the life of Christ, from the Old Testament  prophecies, to His birth, His revelation to the gentiles, Christ’s life and ministry, Holy Week and the resurrection, and finally His ascension and the establishment of the Church through the coming of the Holy Spirit. The church year is not simply a recounting of the events, but it is dramatized and given chronological structure which accords with historic events. The ancient Church Fathers called this active remembering “anamnesis,” which isn’t simply a passionless, passive, accounting of events, but a dynamic entry into the narrative, almost as if we were spectators or participants at the time. The increasing darkness of the Tenebrae service on Good Friday defies explanation—describing its character through each successive reading cannot convey the meaning of the service with its darkness coupled with the narrative of Christ’s suffering. To quote a cliché, “you just have to be there.” And this is how it is with the liturgical year. It communicates Christ’s life in a dramatic and chronological way.

This month brings us to Pentecost, the establishment of the Church, and Holy Trinity Sunday, which is technically not part of the church year established around the life of Christ, but the placement of which immediately following Pentecost provides for a convenient point to end the festival part of the church year—i.e., that part of the church year based on the life of Christ. The non-festival half of the church year, then, begins after Holy Trinity and deals with theological themes. The color of the paraments during this time is green, symbolizing the growth of our faith. Although there are some cycles, the readings each Sunday may not continue the thought from the previous week as they do during the festival, chronological half of the church year. Such is the meaning of Christocentricity—instead of just talking about how Christ is central to our Church and its teachings, we actually live and experience it.
Benjamin Kolodziej
Director of Music

Hymn of the Day

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 THE HYMN OF THE DAY A unique element of Lutheran worship is the “Hymn of the Day,” sometimes called the “Hymn for the Word” or even the “Sermon Hymn” in the old hymnal. This hymn’s purpose differs from hymns used elsewhere in the service as it should relate closely to the sermon and to the lectionary (readings) for the day. Ideally, all three readings are related by a common theme—in practice, this theme is occasionally difficult to discern, so the Hymn of the Day should relate unambiguously to the text on which the pastor is preaching.

Currently, Pastor Shaltanis usually preaches on the gospel of the day, and hence this hymn will relate closely to that. Luther Reed, a liturgical scholar, writes of the Hymn of the Day that, “This is the principal hymn of the Service (Hauptlied). Following the lessons and the Creed and immediately preceding the Sermon. . . [it] must be chosen with care.” (The Lutheran Liturgy, p. 305) You may notice that often the first and last hymns of the service will be more general—they are often seasonal, singing Advent hymns during Advent, Lenten hymns during Lent, etc. Or, they may hail from the “Morning” or “Beginning of Service” or the even more generic “Praise and Adoration” sections of the hymnal. In our evening services, for example, usually the last hymn is taken from the “Evening” section (since there are so many good evening hymns and only limited opportunities to sing them!) But the Hymn of the Day must convey the theme of the day much more closely.

During Lent we sang, “God Loved the World So That He Gave” (571), on the Sunday the Gospel lesson was taken from John 3 and from which that pinnacle verse of Gospel theology is taken: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Here one can easily see the close connection between this Hymn of the Day, the Gospel lesson, and the sermon. This month, on the Second Sunday of Easter, the assigned Hymn of the Day is, “O Sons and Daughters of the King” (470/471), in which we sing, “That night the apostles met in fear; among them came their master dear and said, ‘My peace be with you here.’ Alleluia! When Thomas first the tidings heard that they had seen the risen Lord, He doubted the disciples word.” This correlates closely with the Gospel that day taken from John 20 in which Jesus appears to His disciples and confronts Thomas with his unbelief saying, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Selecting hymns for the Lutheran Divine Service must be done carefully. And of course, sometimes Hymns of the Day don’t align so completely with the Gospel text and sermon theme as the two examples above. So no doubt you will also notice times where there may be incongruity in one way or the other—the fact is, we don’t have good hymns that apply to every situation of scriptural topic! And of course, I hope you sing all the hymns and liturgy with enthusiasm, but if you can only sing one on any given Sunday, please sing the Hymn of the Day!

INJ+ Benjamin Kolodziej Director of Music