In the church calendar year, today is actually the seventh Sunday of Easter. Ascension was formally (or informally) celebrated last Thursday. By the power vested in me, and as the church calendar year is a human invention, the lessons and prayers for Ascension day are being observed today at St. Luke’s.

Some liturgical purists would object to this deviation from the church calendar year. For them, it is important to do everything “by the book,” as it were. In that same mind set, one should observe the proper liturgical colours, have all the right liturgical gestures and movements, and so forth. Protestants have often labeled such adherence or “being a slave” to detail as being “too Roman Catholic” or in days gone by “too popish.” In reaction, other denominations have gone the other way by dispensing with everything liturgical for something more “free” and “spirit led,” whatever that might be. Even these churches, however, often fall into a particular order or format for their services, even if not expressly liturgical. After all, we need to put some limits on these things. Otherwise, we will miss Sunday afternoon sports or going to the beach or playing golf or having a nap or …

Doing things “by the book” is important for some people. It makes life orderly, predictable, and therefore controllable. Other folks like to be a little (or a lot) more “free flowing,” “taking it as it comes,” and so forth. People organize or disorganize their lifestyles around such matters, and that goes for church too. For some, having a set liturgy choreographed as much as possible is important, often declared necessary or even proper. Others find such worship to be too constricting or even lifeless. Today, it seems that “church camp” style worship “come home” is what people “want.” So, in an effort to get people “through the door,” Sunday worship becomes “summer camp” worship indoors. The tricky bit is deciding where to build the campfire in the sanctuary, and after it is lit, how to convince people despite all the smoke that one is not Roman Catholic burning lots of incense!

So, should we do things “by the book” or not, and if so, by which book? Luke 24:52-53 reads, “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” At his ascension, the disciples worshiped Jesus then and there, outdoors, perhaps near the “Bethany Jewish Summer Bible Camp.” Who knows? It did not matter. What form of worship did they exercise? Scripture does not say. Did they sing, have readings, quickly build a campfire? Who knows. “They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy …” (So, who was Joy, and what made her so great?)

Then, they “were continually in the temple blessing God.” So, how might “worshiping” Jesus differ from “blessing God.” Is “worshiping” done outdoors and “blessing God” done indoors? Where is the liturgical manual when such questions arise? Without a liturgical manual, how could the disciples ever become good Lutherans? Even if one wants to do things “by the book,” by the Book, i.e. the Bible, what might that mean. So, what are we to do?

As we know from our experience and from history, worship styles are not all the same and never have been. Some people are inclined to envisage a “golden age” of worship and seek to restore it or safeguard it today. Others view anything “golden age” as being outdated and outmoded, something that will not resonate with “younger people.” These approaches are both the same in a way. They seem to worry about who is doing the worshiping rather than who is being worshiped. Luke says that the disciples “worshiped Jesus” and “blessed God.” God is always the focus of our worship, which is a response to his gifts given to us in word and sacrament.

The next time that we are able to gather as a congregation, and furthermore the next time that we can do so on “hymnal Sunday,” take some time to notice in the hymnal that the liturgy which we use is annotated with the verses of the Bible. Quite simply and yet profoundly, scripture is the source of our liturgy. Scripture creates the liturgy and gives it life. In other words, when we use the liturgy we are actually doing things “by the Book,” i.e. the Bible. Through the liturgy God teaches us with his word, and then with his own words we worship and bless him for the gift of eternal life given to us in Jesus Christ.