Holy Cross Lutheran Church

The Lutheran Liturgy

\n\nAs Lutherans, advice we’re pretty into tradition, especially through the use of the liturgy. But what does it all mean? What’s behind it? This is supposed to try and explain.\n\nLutherans have a rich liturgical tradition and liturgy is one of my passions. So, since there is no place better to start than the beginning, we’ll begin our liturgical journey with the Confession and Forgiveness.\n\nOur “Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness”, found in the LBW, tells us why we confess. Quoting 1 John 1:8-9, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” In our confession we agree with God that we are sinners.\n\nThis agreeing with God about our sinfulness is only the first part of our confession. Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, writes, “Confession consists of two parts. The first is our work and act, when I lament my sin and desire comfort and restoration for my soul. The second is a work that God does, when he absolves me of my sins through the Word placed on the lips of another person. This is the surpassingly grand and noble thing that makes confession so wonderful and comforting.”\n\nThe second part, when God’s grace is made evident through forgiveness of our sins, is what Luther seeks to focus us on. Instead, to paraphrase his work, we should focus ourselves on God. We don’t confess as if our confessing is something wonderful we present to God, but instead focus on his Word to us. Now, because no one else could say it quite like him, “You dare not come and say how upright or how wicked you are. If you are a Christian, I know this well enough anyway; if you are not, I know it even better. But you must do it for this reason: to lament your need and allow yourself to be helped so that you may attain a joyful heart and conscience.”\n\nWhen we confess our sins, our confession is not the important part, but instead our brokenness as we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of God’s saving and redemptive grace. It is after we have heard the absolution of our sins–the very Word of God through the mouth of a person–that we are prepared to continue in our service of worship of God.\n\nKyrie is a Greek word meaning “Lord”. Kyrie eleison, from which the Kyrie takes its name, means “Lord, have mercy”. When we sing this part of our service, we are asking our Lord Jesus to be merciful to us, and to those for whom we pray. We mimic the cry of many in the Bible who cry to God in this way. Many Psalms contain a cry out to God for mercy, be it in the form of salvation from enemies (Psalm 57, written while David hid from Saul) or asking for forgiveness of sin (Psalm 51, written by David after his affair with Bathsheba). The tax collector in Luke 18 simply prays for mercy, and Jesus says by that humble act he was justified before God.\n\nMany who came to Jesus looking for healing cried out to him for mercy. A Canaanite woman sought mercy for a demon-possessed daughter in Matthew 15, along with a man seeking healing for his son in Matthew 17. Blind Bartimeaus, in Mark 10, sought out Jesus’ mercy even while others discouraged, and even rebuked his efforts.\n\nWhen we cry out to Jesus in the Kyrie, we pray for several things specifically. We pray for peace and for our salvation in the first petition. The second we pray globally: for the world, the Church, and for the unity of all people. Next we ask God to have mercy on us, as we come together to praise our Lord. We conclude the prayers asking God for help, comfort, and defense.\n\nWhen the Kyrie is concluded, we move into the Hymn of Praise. This is one of two songs, the Gloria or “This is the feast”. The Gloria is the more ancient of the two texts, and in it we give praise and thanks to God in a very Hebrew way – by repeating the acts He has done for us and stating who He is. The opening reminds us of the opening statement of the angels proclaiming Jesus’ birth to the shepherds of Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2: 14). Next, it moves to a praise of God the Father, before spending the majority of its time praising Jesus, the Son, the Lamb of God. We hear the words of the Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God: You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” It ends by invoking the Trinity, citing Jesus alone as the Holy One, the Lord, and the Most High – always and forever with the Holy Spirit in the glory of the Father.\n\n“This is the feast” references the Revelation of John, and the great wedding feast of the Lamb, Jesus. It too, praises our Triune God by restating who He is and what He has done for us. The words we sing echo those of the elders surrounding the throne of God: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5: 9,12).\n\nBoth of these hymns, especially “This is the Feast”, focus us toward the Lord’s Table – the Sacrament of Holy Communion – and to the hearing of God’s Word. In this section I’m going to include the Prayer of the Day, the Lessons, and the Sermon.\n\nThe Prayer of the Day, also known as the Collect, changes weekly with the lessons. It focuses us on the texts for the day, and helps to guide our thoughts onto the day’s theme. The prayers often, but not always, end with a Trinitarian doxology: “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” This reminds us of the mystery of the Trinity, and of the God to whom we pray.\n\nWe then hear the word of God to us. The lessons are read from both Testaments, and we see God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel and to the early Christians. After the lessons the gospel verse is sung containing, in all seasons except lent, the quote from John 6:68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter says this after many of Jesus’ other disciples had left him, and Jesus asked him if they, too, sought to leave. And we echo the statement, acknowledging the power contained in Jesus’ words and setting ourselves up to hear the Gospel lesson.\n\nAfter the Gospel lesson is read, the sermon begins. The congregation hears a message that is both Law and Gospel – what to do and what’s been done. The law kills, so that the gospel can bring life. The law brings us to despair, so that the gospel can bring us hope. The sermon holds these in tension and opens us up to hear and welcome God’s grace.\n\nWe conclude this time with the singing of a hymn, and then proceeds into the Creed. We’ve crossed a sort of halfway point in the journey through our liturgy. In this section, I’ll be focusing on the Apostle’s Creed, but the Nicene Creed also has a long and exciting history surrounding it. When we profess our faith in our worship services, we acknowledge who God is and what He has done for us, His people. We also profess faith in the three persons of our Trinity, establishing their unity while acknowledging their diversity.\n\nLuther writes in his Large Catechism that the Creed “sets forth all that we must expect and receive from God; in short, it teaches us to know him perfectly.” With this in mind, and before we delve into the Creed itself, I want to share a bit about the Creed’s history. The Apostle’s Creed is an offshoot of the early Christian baptismal liturgy. Some writings from the third century record an order of Baptism that closely resembles our current form of the Creed.\n\nThe Creed itself is divided, by Luther, into three articles, one for each person of the Trinity. The first reminds us of God the Father, the Creator. The second focuses us on Christ: His life, His death, His resurrection, and the blessings we have through those events. The third article focuses on the Holy Spirit, and the ways He works in us to make us holy and establish the Church on earth.\n\nWe follow the Creed with the prayers of the people. This is the time in our service when we lift to God the needs of our world, our church, and ourselves. We as a congregation pray in agreement with the person leading the prayers, as we ask our merciful God to hear us, His people.\n\nWith the sharing of the peace we enter into what is called the “service of the sacrament”. The Sharing of the Peace seems, often, like a time to say hi to everyone around you. However, its original intent included more than that. It is indeed a time of greeting, but it also is a time of reconciliation. Jesus says, as recorded in Matthew 5:23-24, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” This is our time to forgive the people around us as we have been forgiven by God at the opening of our service. In doing so, we are more prepared to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.\n\nWhen the Sharing of the Peace concludes, we take the Offering. We give back to God out of the bounty He has given to us. In some churches, the bread and the wine are brought forward as part of our offering. The monetary aspect of the offering enables the church to continue its ministry. In ancient Israel, the priests were allowed portions of the meat from sacrifices so they could feed themselves and their families, and this practice continues, in a much modified form, today. Our offerings provide salaries for the pastors and staff and enables the church to pay its bills, and more importantly, provide funds to assist those who spread God’s love, such as our missionaries overseas and our more local ministries.\n\nAfter its conclusion, we sing a song celebrating God for what he has done, as the offering plates are brought forward and blessed. We give ourselves to God’s service, and prepare for the next step in our service, the Communion Liturgy itself.\n\nThe Great Thanksgiving is of ancient origin, and begins in the call and response form between the minister and the congregation. It has changed little since the early years of Christianity, as recorded in Hippolytus’ On Apostolic Tradition, written around 235.\n\nThe first phrase, “The Lord be with you; and also with you” comes in part from Ruth chapter 2, when Boaz greets his harvesters saying similar words. This phrase also serves to remind ourselves of the presence of God, as we greet each other, pastor and congregation, in the Name of God. In the second phrase, the congregation is invited to focus themselves on God by saying “Lift up your hearts; we lift them to the Lord.” The third phrase invites us to give thanks to God for what He has done for us, as we say “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God; it is right to give Him thanks and praise.”\n\nThe minister then echoes the words of the congregation as the Proper Preface begins. It begins, “It is indeed right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places offer thanks and praise…” However, depending on the season of our church year, the words following are different. This serves as a reminder to us of what we are celebrating at that time, be it Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ministry, or something else. The Preface ends by leading us into the Sanctus, or “Holy, Holy, Holy”, as we join the heavenly host in singing our praise to God.\n\nThe Sanctus is a combination of several hymns about God in the Bible. The “Holy Holy Holy Lord, Lord God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” is a paraphrase of the song of the angels in Isaiah’s first vision. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). A similar song is sung by the four living creatures around the throne in the Revelation to John. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).\n\nThe second half of the Sanctus is “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” This echoes the cry of the people who welcomed Jesus on the day of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem – a day we celebrate each year on Palm Sunday. We praise Jesus because of who he is, and by using the same words as those used in his triumphal entry, remind ourselves of his presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.\n\nWith the conclusion of the Sanctus we’re prepared to hear again the story of God’s working in world in the Words of Institution.\n

“In the night in which he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the sup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

\nThese words are found in 1 Cor 11:23-25, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20. The scene is noticeably absent from John’s Gospel, but if you look carefully John does talk about Holy Communion in chapter 6 at the feeding of the five thousand.\n\nThis is the story of God’s working in the world, and that is because it is a retelling of that fateful night before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion – God’s supreme act of love for us. We’re told, when we partake of communion, to remember Christ, and as Lutheran Christians we hold that the bread and wine are truly Christ’s body and blood – given to us for the forgiveness of our sin.\n\nAfter these words are said, we pray the prayer Jesus taught to us, joining with Christians everywhere to pray to our Father in Heaven. After the Lord’s Prayer we have time to prepare ourselves to receive this sacrament. Oftentimes the Pastor will provide instruction on the communion process now. Things such as explaining if we receive by intinction (when we dip the host into the chalice) or with the trays of wine. In our congregation, we follow the practice of open communion, where all are welcome to come and partake of the body and blood of Jesus. For a more theological description of this Sacrament, feel free to dig up your old Small Catechism and review it; I’m going to focus mainly on the liturgical aspects of Communion not the theological.\n\nWhen all is ready, the Agnus Dei, meaning “Lamb of God” in Latin, is sung. This hymn comes to us from John the Baptists description of Jesus in John 1:29. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” There are a number of other references in the Bible to Jesus as a lamb, so here we praise Him as that sacrificial lamb.\n\nNow I’ll give you some ways to prepare yourself for receiving communion. One that Martin Luther offers is to reflect on the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” in the Words of Institution. By believing in that, a person “is well prepared and worthy” to receive the sacrament. Another is by singing the communion hymns. As we lift our voices in song, we surround those taking communion with praise to God and focus ourselves to Him as we sing.\n\nAs the distribution ends, the Pastor says a prayer that both asks God to strengthen us through the sacrament and reminds us of the strengthening and forgiveness we receive in it. With Holy Communion concluded, the service concludes with the ending rite.\n\nWith Holy Communion ended, we come to the Benediction. Benediction is a Latin word meaning “blessing”, and the form we use comes from an ancient Jewish blessing known as the Birkat Kohanim or Priestly Blessing. It is found in Numbers 6:23-27 and reads: “The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”\n\nWhen this blessing is spoken, God puts his name on us. Along with the Trinitarian blessing, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, or simply the sign of the cross, we remember our Baptism when God also put his name on us. And so, we ask that God will watch over us and keep us safe.\nAfter the blessing, we are sent out of the service with the words “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” Empowered by the reading of God’s Word and by sharing in the Sacraments, we’re not sent out to just go about our own business, but to go about God’s business. We’re sent to serve.\n\nThe congregational response, “Thanks be to God.” is not only because we’re done with church, as I used to think when I was younger. It is our response to all that God has done for us in the worship service and in our lives. In the end, all we have is God’s, so any opportunity to thank Him is a good one.\n\nAnd now we find ourselves at the conclusion of the service and our journey. The closing hymn is sung and we go out into the world. I hope with the knowledge of our liturgy you can appreciate it in a new way, and the liturgy holds as much meaning to you as it does to me.