The image offered is the centrifuge. Or perhaps a pair of quietly emending knitting needles, wielded by Madame LaFarge. Even as we sing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” we are being pulled apart. Even as we look to the things that have held us together in the past, we are being sliced apart. Yet, in the midst of the
pulling, the slicing, still we gather.
Once again, our Synod has been blessed by a day of gathering for liturgical worship, academic papers, and fine dining. Which is to say: once again, the Church of St. Luke has offered the Festival of the Resurrection to us. The prayer offices and the Eucharist of that day stand on their own, magnificently. The luncheon and dinner would require a WTTW “Check, Please” review. I am not qualified to provide that, although I believe that this parish’s “restaurant” could hold its own on Channel 11.
My task is simpler and more straightforward. I am to introduce the four papers that were delivered on the Friday within the octave of Easter, April 21, 2006. They were offered under the general question, “What Is the Tie That Binds?” The title was an obvious echo of the old beloved hymn, but also an echo of the
anxiety many of us share in an age when it seems like there’s not much that binds the Church together any more.
Each of our four speakers offered a different thought about the tie that binds, yet all are related as are the strands of a rope. No single strand holds against the pulling to and fro of every contemporary wind, but a rope woven together will hold. Hear, then, our writers:
Carl Braaten, an Emeritus Professor at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, suggests that the indispensable tie is belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Even justification, the doctrine on which the (Lutheran) Church stands or falls, would be groundless without the Church’s belief in the resurrection.
Larry Rast, Professor of Historical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, offers a brief survey of American Lutheran Church history focused on the centrality of liturgical worship. He suggests that the way we express our shared convictions in worship constitutes the tie that binds.
Stephen Warner, Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, offers us a view from outside our guild. The sociologist reminds the theologians that we face competition in the provision of meaning to our people. All of us are spun around in social centrifuges as we struggle to remain faithful to our Lutheran affiliation and to the catholic substance. What we have in common is the liturgy.
Finally, Edgar Krentz, Christ Seminary–Seminex Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, reminds us of the diversity and division of the New Testament Church. Krentz challenges us to be aware of false bases for unity. And he points finally to God’s act in Christ, the acceptance of us that challenges us to accept one another. The tie that binds is what happened when Christ accepted the cross for us, which we live out in accepting the variety of those for whom Christ died.
From all four perspectives come a centering on God’s act, raising Jesus from the dead, and our act of returning praise and thanks to God in the liturgy. Could these be the twin centripetal forces that bind us together in the face of all that would tear us apart?
Frank Senn’s column, “As I See It,” reminds us that we cannot take these binding forces for granted. Even as the liturgy has bound English-speaking Lutherans together in our country for over a century, the Psalter in the new proposed book may slice us up in interesting ways.
Once again, in this issue of Let’s Talk, we are called to reflect quite seriously on what holds us together, on what we hold together, on the tie that binds us together, even as we are whirled about in the centrifuge of our lives.