The more clearly a congregation can see its ministry exemplified in the liturgy and the ideals of Martin Luther, the more well-formed the congregation itself will be. – Lutherans Are Not Really Strange, by Pastor Paul Elbert
Lutherans are not really strange. In fact, historically, Lutherans have been around longer than any other Protestant denomination—not surprising in that Martin Luther is considered the father of Protestants. Of course, Luther detested that any group would be called “Lutherans.” As he often said, ‘Who is Luther? It is only Christ Jesus who matters!’ Yet, the opponents of the 16th Century Reformation referred to all those who supported the reforms advocated by Martin Luther as “Lutherans.” Hence, the name stuck.
Martin Lutheran on the History Channel: http://www.history.com/topics/martin-luther-and-the-95-theses
- Jesus Christ is the principal actor – he is the focal point.
- Change will happen – expect transformation.
- God meets us where we are and carries us through an intelligible progress to a different place.
- Liturgy enacts the gospel.
- Liturgy is doing something rather than reading something.
- The most profound impression that worship may make on a stranger is that an assembly of believing and doubting Christians is honestly engaged with God.
- Emphasized texts in worship are scriptures read, spoken, sung, and prayed.
- Prayers are a response of the people to God’s word.
After the Confession and Forgiveness we sing the Entrance Hymn. This hymn sounds the keynote theme of the day and is sung as the worship leaders follow the cross from the narthex (the entrance that leads to the nave) through the nave (Latin for “ship” or the place of the congregation’s assembly) to the chancel (the elevated place of the altar. The altar symbolizes the presence of God.) Because our focus as Christians is always on the cross, it is appropriate that as the cross enters the nave that we turn and face the cross and follow it with our eyes as it processes from the narthex to the chancel. (It is very traditional to reverence the cross by bowing as it passes by you.)
Following the Entrance Hymn is the Apostolic Greeting. The Presiding Minister greets the people with the words of St. Paul (“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” 2 Corinthians 13-14), and the people respond. In this way we recognize ourselves as fellow apostles (from the Greek apostolos meaning “messenger”). We are getting ready to hear and experience the message with which we will be sent at the end of the worship service!
You will notice that following the Apostolic Greeting (“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…”) comes the Hymn of Praise addressed to Christ. The ancient Glory to God recalls the Christmas song of the angels (Luke 2:14), and is used especially during the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany. During Advent and Lent the Hymn of Praise is omitted.
We continue with the Prayer of the Day which brings the first section, Gathering (or Entrance Rite), to an close. Historic brief prayers reflecting the focus of the day; it also forms a bridge from the gathering of the people to the second major section of the liturgy: the proclamation of the Word. The Prayer prepares the people to hear the lessons appointed for the day.
Having Gathered (the entrance rite) for worship our attention now shifts as we hear the Word of God (God speaks to the people). There are usually four parts:
- The First Lesson is almost always from the Old Testament and relates to the Gospel lesson of the day.
- The Psalm is from the “hymn book” of the Bible and is chanted or recited in alteration with the choir or the Assisting Minister.
- The Second Lesson usually comes from one of the letters (epistles) in the New Testament.
- Holy Gospel – A Verse is sung in preparation for the Gospel. Because Christ is especially present in this reading, the people stand in respect, and acclamations of the people precede (Luke 2:14) and follow (Acts 4:21) the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.
The Sermon follows the gospel reading and should be guided by the lessons. This is not the time for the pastor’s “opinion,” but should be a considered meditation of the readings for the benefit of the congregation. It is the living voice of the Word, today. The Hymn of the Day, as the chief hymn of the service, is then sung in response to the lessons and sermon. The recitation of the Creed, as a response to the proclamation of the Word of God,follows. It is an historic summary of our common faith. The Nicene Creed (written in 325 A.D.) is recited on festivals and for Holy Communion. The Apostles’ Creed (whose content can be traced to as early as 215 A.D.) is used on all other days. The Creed is not a prayer, but a confession to which Christians all around the world adhere. So, it is recited boldly with eyes wide open.
The Eucharistic Prayer is the high point of the Great Thanksgiving. It is a narrative—our telling of the great story of God, now. The rituals in which any religion engages bridge time and space making what happened in the past a contemporary experience. In the celebration of the Eucharist we “remember” Christ in a profound and biblical way. This re-membering of Christ with ourselves is the goal of the act of thanksgiving (eucharistia is Greek for “thanksgiving). We are “re-minded” of the promise contained in Jesus’ life and death (and therefore speak of being, not improved, but transformed by the mystical eating and drinking of mere morsels of bread and wine in which we confess that Christ. We confess that although the bread and wine are not changed in substance—they remain bread and wine—they do mysteriously convey in, with, and under their elements, the true body and blood of Christ Jesus). The narrative has brought the bread and wine to the center of attention—here is the pinnacle of our entire worship experience! No wonder the congregation concludes the Eucharistic Prayer with a hearty “Amen!” (which means “So be it!”)
The Eucharistic Prayer is completed. We have once again heard the words instituting our Lord’s supper. We respond with the Lord’s Prayer—the table prayer of the congregation. We pray the words that Jesus taught all of his disciples—us. Considered the “perfect prayer,” it outlines all that we need for a life of faithfulness to the one God. We then sing the Angus Dei (“Lamb of God” from Exodus 24 and John 1:29). This beautiful and reverential canticle reminds us that Christ is the Lamb of God that was sacrificed to free us from our sin (Galatians 1:4) and restore us into God’s good favor—for we could not do it for ourselves. We approach the Lord’s altar to receive the forgiveness of our sins through this second of the two sacraments Lutherans celebrate.
A Sending Hymn may be sung which summarizes Christ’s mission, through us, to the world.
At the conclusion of the hymn, the assisting minister may dismiss the people with a vigorous assignment to “Go in peace; serve the Lord.” The congregation responds with equal enthusiasm, “Thanks be to God.”
Our service to our Lord does not end here. It simply assumes a different form in the activities of our daily lives. We have been strengthened for just this kind of mission to the world by the Holy Supper. Yes, thanks be to God!