The Divine Service
At the center of our life together as a Lutheran parish is the Divine Service, our weekly Sunday worship service where we gather together as God’s people to confess our sins and receive absolution, receive God’s gifts of Word and Sacraments, offer up prayers and petitions, and respond in thanksgiving and praise. Our chief worship service is called the Divine Service because in it we receive God’s gifts. We use the historic liturgy of the Lutheran church, based on the Western Rite and developed over 2000 years of church history. The service includes terms and texts from Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English, testifying to the fact that we are connected to the one Holy Christian Church throughout the ages. The service includes the following key parts, almost all of which are drawn directly from scripture:
The InvocationMatthew 28:19
The invocation proclaims the name of the triune God whom we worship and reminds us of our standing before God as redeemed children who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Confession and Absolution1 John 1:8-10; John 20:23
We can approach God with confidence because of what Jesus has won for us, yet we still sin daily, even as Christians, and so we join in confessing our sins and in joyfully hearing the wonderful words, "I forgive you all your sins", spoken by the pastor in the name of Christ.
1 John 1:8-10; John 20:23
Kyrie - Lord, have MercyMatthew 20:30
We join in this brief yet all-encompassing prayer, knowing that God hears our prayer and is indeed merciful to us.
Gloria in Excelsis - Glory be to GodLuke 2:14
The song of praise the angels sang on the night of Christ's birth: "Glory be to God on high, and earth peace, goodwill toward men". In this song we especially praise Jesus for taking away the sin of the world.
Bible readings and a Psalm1 Timothy 4:13
The church follows a pre-appointed series of readings from the Bible following themes throughout the church year, all pointing us to Jesus and what he has done for us.
1 Timothy 4:13
Singing HymnsColossians 3:16
Throughout the service, we join in singing hymns. Our hymns, drawn from the best music from all times throughout church history, are more than just good music; they teach doctrine in a memorable and poetic way.
The SermonMark 16:15; 2 Timothy 4:2
Building off of one or more of the lessons read that morning, the sermon points us to Jesus, and shows us Law and Gospel, the condemnation we deserve for our sin and the sweet promise of forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross.
Mark 16:15; 2 Timothy 4:2
In answer to Jesus' question of "who do you say that I am?", we confess our faith with one of the historic ecunumical creeds, reminding us that we do not worship alone but stand united with the holy Christian church throughout all the ages.
OfferingProverbs 3:9; 2 Corinthians 9:7
In joyful thanks to God for his salvation, we willingly offer up our firstfruits for the support and spreading of the Gospel.
Proverbs 3:9; 2 Corinthians 9:7
Prayer of the Church1 Timothy 2:1-2
Trusting God's promise to hear us, we pray for our congregation and the church in all the world, for the nations and our leaders, for those among us who are sick or suffering, and for other needs.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
Sanctus - Holy, Holy, HolyIsaiah 6:3; Matthew 21:9
The first half, sung by the angels around the throne of God in Isaiah's vision, provides a glimpse into heaven and also reminds us of Christ's real presence in the Sacrament that we are about to receive. The second half are the words from Palm Sunday, as we proclaim that Christ does indeed still come into our midst in the Lord's name in Holy Communion.
Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 21:9
Words of InstitutionMatthew 26:26-28
When we repeat the words of Jesus instituting the Lord's supper, we know that Christ's words really do what they say and that Christ is present among us, bringing heaven to earth and offering to us his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, giving us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Agnus Dei - O Christ, Lamb of GodJohn 1:29
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him to be baptized, he cried out, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!". What was once only pictured in the passover lamb had become a reality, and is still a reality for us today as Christ is present among us in Holy Communion.
Distribution of Holy Communion1 Corinthians 11:23-26
At this point in the service, those who are in fellowship with WELS or ELS come forward to receive the body and blood of the Lord given and poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening and preserving of our faith until life everlasting.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Nunc Dimittis - Song of SimeonLuke 2:29-32
Like the disciples did after receiving the first Lord's Supper, we too join in a hymn, singing the words of Simeon in the Temple after he held the baby Jesus. We, too, have seen God's salvation and have tasted and seen that the Lord is good as we have received God's gifts of the means of grace in Word and Sacraments.
The Divine Service ends with a proclamation of the gospel in the ancient Aaronic blessing first given by God over 3000 years ago: "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace."
Other Elements in Lutheran Worship
The pastor preaches from the pulpit, which serves a reminder that he is delivering a formal pronouncement from Christ Himself to His people in the congregation. The raised design means that we lift our eyes Heavenward to hear the Word of God proclaimed. The pulpit dwarfs the preacher, minimizing the pastor's personality and reminding us that what is being preached from the pulpit is far greater than the preacher. Its design conveys a sense of permanence and stability, reminding us Christ's Gospel and Kingdom will endure forever.
The altar is a symbol of Christ and of God's gracious presence among us. Here heaven and earth meet, where Christ’s body and blood are present in Holy Communion and where we offer up our prayers to God. The altar cross reminds us of Christ’s death and resurrection. Candles remind us that Christ is the light of the world. Flowers also serve as a reminder of Christ’s resurrection.
Baptism unites us with Christ. By our baptism we were born again with a new life from God to live before him in righteousness and purity forever. The font is displayed prominently as a reminder of this promise of God.
The Sign of the Cross
During several points in the service, such as the invocation at the start and the benediction at the end, the pastor makes a sign of the cross to the congregation. The sign of the cross serves as a confession of faith in Christ the crucified. It also serves as a reminder of our baptism, marking us as baptized and redeemed children of God. Those who have been baptized may make the sign of the cross, mirroring the pastor at these points in the service.
The white vestment or robe that our pastor wears, covering his black shirt, symbolizes that his sin is covered by the righteousness of God. In covering the pastor and removing any personal style in dress, it reminds us that he stands in front of us as God's representative and helps us to focus on the gift of salvation that the pastor preaches to us.
Why Use the Historic Liturgy?
If you’re new to a Lutheran church, the way Lutherans worship may seem completely foreign to you. Or maybe you’ve been a life-long Lutheran and would like to learn more about the meaning behind how we worship. Enjoy this series of videos from our sister Lutheran synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, explaining the historic Lutheran liturgy, why we worship the way we do, and how it points to Christ.