“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 ESV). One minute goes by. Then two minutes. The sounds of fidgeting are heard, and they quickly multiply. Three minutes have now passed; it seems we’re experiencing eternity. It’s very hard for us, isn’t it? During a recent evening service we experienced three minutes of reflection between the confession and the absolution, and a long period of meditation after the reading of God’s Word. I was struck by the fact that three minutes (180 seconds) seemed like a black hole from whence we would never return—forever stuck in a state of awkward silence.
It seemed a simple task—to sit quietly and reflect—meditate—on the Word of Life we had just received. Tick. Tick. Tick. There we sat, uncomfortable in our silence. Hearts and minds that were gathered to receive the good gifts of God were distracted by the stillness. We were meditating on our meditation. How did we get here? How did we get to a point that, within the Divine Service where and when we gathered to receive the gift of Christ, silence became awkward? Could it be that our lives, so filled with constant stimuli, view the absence of stimuli as a threat? Maybe we are so used to being receptive to all the noise and distractions around us that quietness and contemplation have become alien. Quite possibly we remain receptive, but we remain receptive to the wrong things. Our hearts, if you will, are tuned into the wrong stations.
Receiving is Quiet
We are listening creatures. As St. Paul notes, “faith comes through hearing” (Romans 10:17). Each Lord’s Day, God feeds you with His Word—the Word spoken, chanted, and sung. Through the Church and the Office of the Holy Ministry, the Lord also feeds you—literally—Christ. Take! Eat! This is for you! We hear, speak, chant, eat, and sing the Word of Christ—the Word made flesh. The meditation that comes from receiving Christ in the Divine Service happens in many places. Conversations, music, and what we see and feel all can be triggers for meditation, as can be sitting quietly. However, sometimes our life is so filled with “noise” that we can only hear “static.” As a pastor at a liturgical church, I often hear those from other confessions note that our church services are very quiet (sometimes that’s a polite way of saying they are boring). Receiving is quiet. You see, the stillness noted above that we found so disconcerting was a symptom. It was symptom of the disease that the concept and practice of receiving what God gives, and to peacefully reflect on that giving and gift, is alien to us. “I must have to do something to help all this along.” No. Scripture is quite clear. You are dead until God in Christ makes you alive. This happens in the Divine Service where God serves you.
A Receptive Heart
Next time you attend the Divine Service, sit. Listen. Receive. Take your hymnal home. Read the words we say week after week. All are drawn from Scripture. See in those words the language of reception. “O Lord open my lips…” The whole service, whether Matins, Vespers, etc., is a grand confession of who we are before God and what He does for us. We say what God says—this is the essence of confession. The receptive heart hears these words. Why would God say this about me? Am I a poor miserable sinner? Am I forgiven for the sake of Christ? Receptive meditation receives the answers from God Himself. As God answers through the preaching office, through the Holy Supper, through Baptism, our hearts begin to hear Him. We stop listening to the noise of the world and our busy lives, and we start hearing the Truth. I am a poor miserable sinner. For the sake of the holy, bitter, innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ He has had mercy on me. So with the words of the Divine Service our “self” is cast aside. In these words we are taught to receive as we receive Him in Word and Sacrament. Can you then see how this spills over into our meditation at home, work, or wherever meditation occurs? When troubles happen, our meditation becomes less about what we want and more about what God seeks to do through circumstance. Our hearts receive the bad news, the good news, and the rebukes. Our hearts cry out: “Thy will be done!” Need a receptive heart? Who doesn’t? Be fed by God. Stop listening to the noise of the world that tells you to look and experience God anywhere but in the place He has promised to be. Come to the buffet. Sit and listen. In all this, know that Christ is there. He is rescuing you from the death caused by your sin and making you a new creation. I suspect on that thought alone we could ruminate for far longer than three minutes.
This blog post is the third of several leading up to the 2013 All Pastors’ Conference. The theme, “They Devoted Themselves … ,” is based on Spiritual Disciplines. Dr. John Kleinig will be the keynote presenter and help pastors dive further into the disciplines.