Is it really necessary as a final point to emphasize that renew of genuine liturgy implies neither a depreciation nor a crowding out of preaching? That is the usual objection whenever liturgical renewal is discussed. It is a perfectly valid objection; of course, if the liturgical renewal involves merely an artificial ceremonial and an aesthetic ritualism, in which blase congregations, whose jaded taste no longer appreciates the simple Gospel and the homely Sacraments, try to find a substitute for that which is the very essence of Christian worship. Preaching––without which there is no worship in the church militant––will indubitably perish in such circles. Possibly preaching has already perished, where preachers can no longer preach, and congregations can no longer bear to listen to, real sermons.
The authentic liturgy of the church, however, and authentic preaching of the Gospel have always belonged together, with the sermon constituting a basic and indispensable component of the liturgy. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the Breaking of Bread, and in prayers,” we read of the first Christian congregation. Synaxis and Eucharist, the of the Word and the service of the Sacrament were, it is true, separately conducted, but in the earliest period the latter followed the former immediately as the famed letter of Pliny the Younger shows when properly understood. The proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of Holy Communion belong together. It is not without significance that the chiefest liturgy of the Eastern church bears the name of St. John, the fourth century Doctor and patriarch who as Orthodoxy”s greatest preacher was called “Chrysostom“––the Golden Mouthed.
The ancient church was a preaching church. So was the church of the Reformation; and the great renovator of the liturgy, Blessed Martin Luther, who gave Germany and in a sense all Christendom the purified mass, was Germany’s and possibly the whole Western church’s greatest preacher. It was he who also restored to the sermon its real function and content, the obscuring of which had been the basic occasion for the medieval pagan invasion of the Christian liturgy. Actually no movement looking toward liturgical renovation cannot function without being at the same time a renewal of preaching. This kind of service that we seek, in which the Sacrament of the Altar again receives the proper place that it had in the ancient church and in the church of the Reformation and that it lost only through the ravages of Pietism and the age of Enlightenment, will take away from the sermon nothing which properly belongs to it. Of course, the sermon will have to be less emotion and better disciplined than the average modern Protestant pulpit discourse. The preacher will have to speak more to the point at issue and less about himself and his opinions. The subjectivism and emotionalism of the modern sermon, like its poverty of doctrinal substance, is tolerable only in a service that lacks authentic liturgical character. Yet if a revival of preaching in this sense were to offer less time and occasion for napping in church, alleged to have been not infrequent in the past, so much the better for the whole service!
How are we to explain this indissoluble connection between the sermon and the liturgy? Underlying it is the deeper nexus of the means of grace, the connection between the Gospel and the Sacraments, which probably no one understood as profoundly as did Martin Luther. Without the Word there is no Sacrament. Without the Word contained in the baptismal formula which Christ prescribed there is not Baptism; without the Words of Institution there is not Sacrament of the Altar. Contrariwise, without Holy Baptism and Holy Communion the church could preach as much a she wanted to, but her preaching would cease to be a proclamation of the Gospel; and the organizations which that preaching would create would be at most societies for the propagation of a world-view, but not Christian congregations. Without the Sacraments there would be no church at all.
We do not know why it pleased our Lord Jesus Christ to bind his presence among us to the simple Word and Sacred Scriptures, to the preaching of the Word, and to the homely Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. For us it must be enough to know that He has done so; and thus all our liturgical effort becomes at bottom simply our praying and our striving that of his mercy God would––”Preserve to us till life is spent / his Holy Word AND Sacrament.”
Scripture and the Church: Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse
edited by Jeffrey J. Kloha and Ronald R. Feuerhahn