"What is the liturgy?"
I remember when some Presbyterian Korean students put the question to
Nagel in a class he was teaching: "Luther as Servant of the Liturgy." But in
any case, his answer was informative, frustrating, and right on:
"The liturgy is wherein we live as the people of God."
One of the Korean students asked after class why Dr. Nagel hated
them! We told them, he doesn't hate you, but he's trying to answer a
question that avoids taking a living thing and making of it a corpse
for dissection and study. Then we showed them the text in the book
and I think they were more perplexed than ever. And well they might
be, because the Church's liturgy is not just text in a book.
My answer will likely be as frustrating but let me give her a whirl.
The Church's liturgy is her prayed confession. Loehe: "The Church
not only learns, she prays. She prays not only in her single members
in their closets, but together in her houses of assembly. She prays
in speech, she prays in song, and the Lord dwells amid her praises
with His Sacraments. Her approach to Him, His approach to her, the
whole form of her approach and of His coming, we call the Liturgy."
Now the next section is important and vital and we should not ignore.
"These forms are free, few parts are commanded."
But THIS is the part I would emphasize:
"but in spite of her freedom the Church from the beginning has
accepted certain forms. A holy manifoldness of singing and praying
has developed itself, and a lovely course of thought in drawing near
to and departing from the Lord of Lords has been her delight. Like
the planets go round the sun, so the congregation in its services,
full of loveliness and dignity, moves about her Lord. In holy
childlike innocence, which only a childlike heart rightly
understands, the host of redeemed sanctified children of God moves in
worship about the universal Father and the Lamb, and the Spirit of
the Lord of Lords leads them. The spiritual joy and heavenly delight
which such enjoy in their participation in the Liturgy cannot be
described; it impresses even those who are less devout, and the *pure
confession has no lovelier form, no more attractive manner, than when
it is engaged in adoration and praise.*" (Three Books, Book 3,
Wherein we live as the people of God.
Wherein God pours out His life to us and we delight and dance in that life, that light.
The whole round then: the Divine Service and the little daily prayer offices,
our prayers at funerals and weddings, our whole manner of being
before the altar of God and the throne of the Word, these are what I
mean by the Liturgy
Bach would not have come to be, I don't believe, without the delight
in that liturgy which he had grown up in from his youth. He learned
the dance early and when he embellished the dance, it was precisely
an embellishment from within - from wherein he lived as a Christian -
and that's what made it truly great indeed.