A Brief Explanation of Worship in the Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Bryan J. King
The beginning of the service is marked by God calling us together as He promises; “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there also.” His name is the name in which we are baptized by His command – in Matthew 28:19-20; “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
The Opening Hymn
The opening hymn reflects the season of the church year, or the theme of the day, highlighting the teachings of the lessons.
Confession and Absolution
After our hymn of invocation, we confess our sins – the pastor absolves the congregation, that is, forgives the sins of those who confess. “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:21-23).
The Reading of the Psalm
The Book of Psalms was the Old Testament people’s song book. There were tunes used in the chanting/singing of the Psalms and these were a vital part of the worship life of the people of God. These inspired writings are still a valued part of our worship life today.
Kyrie Eleison is Greek for Lord Have Mercy. The Gospel of Mark records; “Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (10:46-48). It is still fitting today for God’s needy children to cry out Jesus, “Lord have mercy.”
The Hymn of Praise
God calls us to sing. In our hymnals we sing various hymns of praise, reflecting great Biblical truths. Like those expressed at Jesus’ birth – the Gloria in Excelsis “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14) and John the Baptizer’s precious words, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Another hymn of praise, This is the Feast – has its roots in the book of Revelation (5:12-13 & 19:5-9).
Propers of the day
Readings, collects, etc., are those parts of the service that change with every service. They are selected to correspond with the season of the church year, and to give us a broad exposure to the Word of God.
The Salutation and Collect of the Day
The Salutation is a reference to 2 Timothy 4:22 wherein Paul closes his letter by saying, “The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.” The Collect is a short prayer that is meant to gather (collect) the thoughts of the readings, and the theme of the day into one concise short prayer.
We follow a lectionary (which is a reading schedule) to ensure that we cover as much as possible of the ‘whole counsel of God’ in our worship services. We continue to read and hear from the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. For in the Old Testament Jesus is active, helping His beloved people as they await His coming and in the New Testament we learn the specifics of the Messiah’s birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and continued work among His people.
Old Testament –
This section of the Bible contains 39 Books that comprise the Old Testament – the Bible that Jesus and his direct followers used.
The word epistle is the Greek word for letter or correspondence, so we are hearing from a ‘letter’ written almost two thousand years ago for the benefit of Christians, both then and now.
Alleluia and Verse
One of the Biblical references that we often sing is from John 6:68 – Jesus had just asked His disciples if they wanted to leave as others had just done, Peter responds to Him with, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” – the Alleluias (meaning praise) are quite fitting as we prepare to hear the Gospel – the Good News of and from Jesus
The Gospel has a grander introduction than the other readings in our worship services, which is quite fitting as we prepare to hear Jesus’ words. (We stand out of respect for our Lord as we listen to Him speak to us).
The Sermon Hymn
The sermon hymn or the hymn of the day reflects the theme of the day and augments the thought of the sermon, lessons, and prayers and gives us time to reflect on the readings as we prepare to hear an exposition of what we have just heard.
The Sermon Text
The text is the basis of the sermon. The sermon grows out of God’s Word, crafted with the goal of explaining and proclaiming Jesus as the only Saviour for this dying world. The Word of God is properly preached when Law and Gospel are rightly divided. The Law shows us our sin, the Gospel shows us God’s love. The law tells us what we are to do and what we are not to do. The Gospel tells us what Jesus has done for us. The law works to drive us to the Cross for forgiveness so that we can live as forgiven people, redeemed by Christ the crucified. That is the heart of every Christian sermon – Christ crucified for a dying world.
The Sermon Theme
The title or theme conveys the central thought, or idea behind the sermon and helps us focus on that while listening. The sermon gives the preacher the opportunity to tie the Word of God to the everyday lives of the people that he serves. Sermons are designed to teach, exhort, comfort, and convey the great truths about God which we so desperately need to live our life of faith, Paul writes, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” A powerful sermon proclaims God’s Word.
The Nicene Creed is traditionally used during communion services, the Apostles’ during other services and the Athanasian Creed is used on Trinity Sunday as well as at other times. These creeds are called ecumenical because all Christians adhere to what these creeds confess.
One of the greatest privileges that we have as God’s children is approaching His throne of Grace through prayer. We are able to pray at home and at worship. Prayers are crafted to reflect the theme of the day, specific needs of the church as well as the needs of the world around us. St. Paul, writing to Timothy, encourages us, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:1-4).
The Offering & Offertory
One of the ways that we respond to God’s love is to present our offerings before Him. We give to Him out of a thankful, renewed heart, not desiring a reward or trying to earn His favour with our offerings, but out of thankfulness. Following the offering we sing an offertory, both are our responses to our Gracious God who has blessed us with a hearing of His Word and an explanation of that Word.
The Service of the Sacrament
The service of the Sacrament begins with the Preface – starting with a rendition of 2 Timothy 4:22 wherein Paul writes, “The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.” finishing his second letter to Timothy – we greet one another, Pastor & People, in remembrance of our renewed relation in Christ, Who invites us to His Precious Supper. The Proper Preface concludes the Preface – this part of the Preface changes according to the church season – different for Advent, Lent, Christmas, Easter, Epiphany, Pentecost, etc., hence the title Proper – meaning that it is specific to that day or season in the church year, like the propers of the day.
Sanctus means Holy – God is Holy as the Biblical reference of Isaiah 6:3 clearly states, “And one cried to another and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: The whole earth is full of His glory!’” – this repetition of ‘Holy’ combined with the Hosannas from Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:9 – makes a wonderful hymn of praise
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
This prayer focuses our attention on what we are about to receive, as we marvel at God’s gracious activity toward us undeserving sinners – and give Him our thanks in prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution
Jesus has given us a wonderful prayer to use each and every day. We pray this prayer either before or after the Words of Institution realizing that it is a perfect prayer that Jesus has given us. The pastor then speaks the Words of Institution, over the bread and wine. The Word of God is powerful and effective, and hence we believe what Jesus has said, “Take eat this is My body.” and “Take drink this is My blood.”
The Peace of the Lord is shared – the Old Testament Greeting, used by Jesus in John 20:19 after His resurrection, relates to salvation – that is Peace with God, through the death of Jesus, we now have peace with God, we are reconciled.
The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is sung for what we are about to receive is indeed the Lamb of God Himself, Jesus’ body given for us, His blood shed for us. In the Old Testament, priests sacrificed a lamb to God to pay for the sins of His people. Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins and is therefore the Lamb of God. The Agnus Dei contains the words from John 1:29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – this is our testimony also – Jesus takes away our sins.
We receive Christ’s body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine. The Lord’s Supper is described in 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 as a most precious medicine for the soul. Like all medicines, it must be used at the right time for the right purpose by the right person, lest it do more harm than good. For this reason the congregations of Lutheran Church Canada practice close communion, that is, we commune those who have been properly instructed in the faith, are able to examine themselves, and have made a public profession of that same faith. Close communion is a loving practice, developed to ensure that those who commune know exactly what they are doing and why.
These hymns aid us in worship while we commune, their content often centres on the Lord’s Supper, or the theme of the day.
The Post Communion Canticle
Once again God calls us to sing His praise for His grace and mercy. As with other parts of the service these canticles are prayers set to music. Since we have received Christ’s body and blood for our salvation we sing our thanks to God. One example is the Nunc Dimittis – (Song of Simeon) which is from Luke 2:29-32 and is Simeon’s song of praise after being privileged to see and to hold the long awaited Christ.
The Post Communion Collect
Remember a Collect is a prayer that collects thoughts into one brief prayer. We have options in our hymnals for these prayers - each prayer has a different emphasis, but all centre on the gift we have received through the meal which Christ has given us.
The Aaronic benediction was to be said over the people of Israel – God’s people. “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”(Numbers 6:23-26).
The Closing Hymn
We close our worship with a Hymn, often a hymn of praise, as we thank God for all He has done for us through His Divine Service, for here we have been served by Him in a marvelous way. To God alone be the glory.