Liturgical Lutheran Worship
The divine service typically begins with an Opening Hymn, usually a hymn of invocation or a hymn of praise. This is often connected with the season of the church year (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc.), bringing us back into God’s time after a week of worldly time.
The liturgy itself begins with the Invocation. To invoke is to call upon God to be present in our midst. Since this is the name Jesus gave to baptize with—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it identifies us as His people, not a random assembly but a very definite gathering, with a common calling and purpose. So we’re remembering the beginning of our Christian lives, and the source of our salvation.
But we don’t barge into God’s presence as if we had a perfect right to be there. The reality of sin is present and active, and we can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist. In fact, sin erects a barrier between the Lord and us, and God alone can break it down. The death of Christ shows our sins to be deadly serious, yet it also brings God’s forgiveness. So now, facing the Holy God, we confess our sins and desire to be restored in His grace.
Then the pastor speaks the word of God’s forgiveness, or absolution, to the worshipping congregation. This is in accordance with the Lord’s command, as with Jesus sending His disciples with authority in the Spirit, and also in behalf of each Christian gathered here, since it is the church, or the priesthood of all believers, that has been entrusted with the power of confession and absolution.
Next is the Introit, which comes from the Latin word for “entrance”. Thus it’s typically an entrance psalm, with half verses spoken responsively. There’s also an antiphon that can begin and end the Introit, and highlights the main thought. This Introit brings us before God in praise and generally relates to the theme of the day. Having received again the good news of forgiveness, we’re ready to stand before God, and in spirit walk up to the altar. With gratitude we praise the changeless Creator by giving glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Then we continue with the Kyrie. Sometimes this is the three-fold plea for mercy; other times it’s the five short prayers spoken by the assistant, with the congregation responding, “Lord, have mercy.” We’re looking to the Lord for help, acknowledging Him as our only leader, beseeching Him for benevolence, with the words the ancient Greeks shouted as their ruler came into their towns: Kyrie eleison!
Confident that our king will come to help us, we unite our voices by singing the Hymn of Praise, also known as the Gloria in Excelsis for the first line, “Glory to God in the highest.”
One of the settings we use is an echo of the song of the angels at
Next we have the Salutation, a verbal expression that we’re in this together. It signifies an openness and trust, unity in our position under God’s word. “The Lord be with you” is a prayer that we all may receive the full benefit of the message we’re about to hear. “And also with you” is a response of peace, that God might bring His word to fruition. Then the Prayer of the Day, formally known as the Collect, is prayed. This gathers the people’s petitions and collects the thoughts of the day into one arrowlike prayer. The congregation responds with Amen, “it shall be so,” a declaration of faith that its prayer is heard.
The Scripture Readings and Sermon together are the first
The hymn before the sermon is called the Hymn of the Day because it usually emphasizes the theme and prepares for the sermon to follow. The Sermon then is most often based on one of the Scripture readings of the day. If it’s based on a topic rather than a biblical text, it’s technically called a homily. The sermon is intended to be a prayerfully prepared preaching of God’s word, exposing our sin, applying God’s forgiveness, and exhorting to life in Christ. As God once planted the cross of His Son into the earth, He now places His word about this cross into the ground of our hearts. And something happens—either His word is choked and parched, or by His word our life in Jesus produces fruit. The standard closing blessing, from Philippians 4:7, prays that the peace of God may never leave us.
Since we’ve heard God’s word spoken to us, we respond by confessing our faith through one of the Creeds of the Church. Speaking to God and confessing to one another, we are happy and proud to publicly voice our faith. The Apostles Creed is shorter, was probably composed earlier, and is the simplest statement of the Christian faith. The Nicene Creed is more detailed, was composed primarily as a reaction to false teaching, and came out of a 4th century Council of the Church.
Next we respond to what God has done to us and for us by bringing our money Offering, an act of worship. In this we are active, we’re giving, we offer ourselves to God and show it by giving our money. In the ancient church, worshipers brought bread and wine to be used in Lord’s Supper. All that was left was distributed among the poor.
Then begins the second part of the service leading up to the second climax, the Lord’s Supper. As we approach God on intimate terms the Offertory is sung. There are three options—one is a prayer for renewal that comes directly from Psalm 51. Another is taken from Psalm 116, emphasizing our thankful response to God’s gifts to us. The third speaks in terms of the vines and grain that are seen in the communion meal, as we ask God to bring His presence to our table, a small picture of the feast experienced in heaven.
As followers of Jesus, we are to pray for all people. In concert with the Christian church around the world, we clasp hands and speak with God who has given us the privilege of Prayer. General petitions are prayed along with special intercessions focused on God’s good care for the people around us.
The Communion service proper begins with the Salutation, another verbal greeting. We encourage each other to lift our hearts and thoughts above all earthly and self-centered concerns.
The Proper Preface then spoken is tied to the season in the church year and highlights the specific reason for thanksgiving.
Next we unite our praises with the angels and with the church in heaven and on earth. As we sing the Sanctus, heaven touches earth and earth is caught up into heaven. Isaiah was granted a vision of heaven in which he saw hosts adoring God with these words. We unite with them in the adoration before the throne of God. A second aspect of the song revolves around “Hosanna,” a Hebrew word that means “Lord, save” and was employed as praise for a king. It was shouted at Christ’s entry into
A Prayer of Thanksgiving that asks the Spirit to come to us is spoken, followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the table prayer of the family of God. We’re reminded that the author of that prayer is the Lamb who was sacrificed on the cross. He is the living high priest who intercedes for us and makes our prayer effective.
With the Words of Institution, the Words of Our Lord, in Latin the Verba, the pastor consecrates the bread and wine, setting them apart for use in the sacrament. We use the words of Jesus on Maundy Thursday to show that the Supper was established by our Lord Himself. He assures us that He is bodily present in the bread and wine to give us forgiveness of sins and continued fellowship with Him by faith.
The congregation prays that the Peace of the Lord, which we have heard about and are about to receive, will never leave us and will comfort and strengthen us forever. As the pastor and elders commune one another, the congregation sings the Agnus Dei, the “Lamb of God.” These words of praise come from John the Baptist when he saw Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. We recognize the same Lamb of God among us in the bread and wine. We pray that He will have mercy on us, hear our prayers, and grant us His peace.
Then comes the time we’ve been waiting for and building up to—Reception of the holy meal. People meet their God; earth is joined to heaven, Jesus is present with His body and blood. We commune with each other here, we are directly connected to the living God, and we are in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world and in heaven above.
After the last ones have communed, we sing a Song of Praise to God. One of these songs speaks of our responsibility to share Jesus with others as one way to say thanks to Him for His gifts. The other, the Nunc Dimmitis, “Lord, now let depart,” comes from the words of Simeon in the temple as he held the baby Jesus in his arms. We too have seen our salvation, Christ Jesus. We reflect His light to all people, we tell everyone what He has done. As we prepare to depart the worship service, we do so with that as our goal, having been filled again with the very power of God.
From there the service moves rapidly to a close. As we do with every meal, we give thanks to God for His gifts. Finally we take into our lives the Benediction of God, the Lord’s good word of blessing. He desires to go with us and bless our work and rest and pleasure. We live our lives in unity with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Aaron, first high priest of God’s Old Testament people, did, so now the pastor speaks the great blessings of God Himself. With the sign of the cross of Jesus, the signature of our Savior is stamped upon our worship and we are again reminded of the baptismal covenant. The response is Amen—“Yes, Lord, let it be so.” From beginning to end the emphasis has been on the presence and work of the Triune God.
Having experienced the splendor of God’s greatness, grace, and glory through the liturgy, we leave strengthened to continue our worship of God in our daily lives. And the Closing Hymn sends us on our way—Go in peace, serve the Lord, thanks be to God!