Becoming Dust

Lutherans love Lent. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case, but it has been my experience that when compared and contrasted to Christians of other stripes and flavors, those in the tribe of the Great Reformer seem to have an odd affinity for the season of reflection preceding Easter. Perhaps it’s because we appreciate having a chance to simplify our lives for 40 days and to focus singularly focus on God’s redemptive work. Maybe we like convincing ourselves that making superficial sacrifices reflects well on our personal spirituality.  Maybe we’re just sadists that enjoy self-flagellation and denial. Whatever the case, it does seem to be true that Lutherans do embrace this season in a way that most others do not.

ash-wednesday-crossI was reminded of this fact as I attended the Ash Wednesday service at my church. Attendance for the evening service was good—maybe not as high as it had been on Sunday morning, but still significant, including a number of families with small children. It was actually one of those very rare instances where I was attending alone—Beth had decided that it would probably a bit of a push to get all of the kids fed and to the church on time, but granted me a special dispensation to attend, knowing my weird affinity for having ashes placed on my forehead. Still, I found myself sitting in the back of the sanctuary with the other families with small children out of sheer habit.

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Lessons from a Children’s Sermon

childrens-sermonLutheran worship is a very structured and orderly thing.  There are moments to stand, kneel, or sit, all of which are specifically laid out in the worship bulletin.  We have elements like the kyrie, the gloria in excelsis, and the nunc dimittis in our services, and while we might not know exactly how those words translate into English, we probably have the lyrics memorized, and can sing them with multiple harmonies.  Vestments and paraments are color coded to match the liturgical calendar, and the readings for any given Sunday are determined years in advance.   We can easily pick out visitors during the responsive readings, as they have yet to master the “Lutheran cadence” that can only be developed after years of attendance.

Now, I love the Lutheran liturgy.  There is something very cool about using the same words in the same order along with other Christians around the world and through the centuries.  The fact that the very structure of the service, and not just the homily, proclaims the Gospel is something that I have grown to appreciate more and more with each passing year.

That said, a little chaos now and then is good for the soul.  Perhaps this is why I so enjoy the Sundays where we have a children’s sermon in the middle of the service.  It’s five minutes of pure improv in the midst of a tightly wound, highly organized program.

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Making My Mother Cry

The following post was written in February 2011.  As I type, Beth and I are about three weeks out from meeting our third child.  Rest assured, Children of the Heavenly Father will be sung at his baptism, and yes, I will probably cry again.


One of the lasting memories of my childhood was seeing my mother cry in church.  This was not for anything my brothers or I did, mind you (although I’m sure such moments did occur), but because of one particular melody that had (and has) the unique ability to turn an unflappable mother of four boys into a blubbering puddle of tears.

Children of the heavenly father
Safely in his bosom gather.
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.

It didn’t help matters that the song is one of the most omnipresent in all of Lutheran hymnody.  Even Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God isn’t as oft-repeated as this simple Swedish folk tune.  While Luther’s “battle hymn” is largely reserved for festival days like Reformation Sunday, Children of the Heavenly Father is used to mark every major milestone in a congregant’s life.  Be it baptism, confirmation, marriage, funeral—it is understood that such celebrations of life or remembrances of life past are to be accompanied by the hymn.

At our church, Children of the Heavenly Father was the official hymn sung at every baptism.  And living in a growing suburban neighborhood, we had a lot of baptisms.  When opening the bulletin, we recognized the hymn on sight (hymn number 474 in the old Lutheran Book of Worship), and would take no small joy in pointing it out to mom before the service started.  She would always vow that she wasn’t going to cry this time, but before the first verse was completed, there were always tears streaming down her face.  Dad kept a handkerchief in his church suit pocket, just in case there was a baptism scheduled for that Sunday.

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