“What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It?”
Parts 1 and 2: Preparation through Gloria
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Normally, you would not see me in the pulpit yet. Normally, I would not be saying anything until I say the words which began this sermon: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But today we are going to begin a series covering the Great Fifty Days of Easter (from now until Pentecost) to try to understand and appreciate a little bit better what happens when the people of God are gathered to hear His Word, receive His gifts, and worship Him in return. Instead of a regular sermon at the appointed time, I am going to do something out of the ordinary and “preach through the liturgy,” as we dig deeper and hear better this great gift of the Church’s liturgy as it has been handed down to us for hundreds and even a thousand-plus years.
This is the Divine Service. It is not divine because it fell from heaven whole (though all of it has been taken from holy Scripture), but because it is where God meets with us. And it is service because here is where God has promised to serve us, by His holy Word and His holy Sacraments. Our high priest, Jesus, is “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:2). Why do we have this Divine Service? Can we not get along without it? True, it is not commanded in the Scriptures; but the form of the liturgy shapes the content of the Gospel, which it delivers. We have the Divine Service because God has chosen and still chooses to work by means: especially as a Man born of a virgin; but also by words, water, bread and wine. All of this divine service aims at the same purpose that John had in writing his Gospel: “…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, ESV). The Scriptures testify to Christ, and the Liturgy testifies to the Christ who is found in the Scriptures. What is our part in the service? Our service, our liturgy, is to offer back to God in worship and prayer all things which He has graciously given us: our time, our offerings of money and possessions, indeed, our entire selves. This is the rhythm of the Church of God: He gives and we receive; He blesses and we are blessed; He forgives us our trespasses, and we are forgiven. He is active and we are passive. But as He gives to us, we give to others. As He blesses us, we bless others. As He forgives us, we forgive those who trespass against us. In the realm of our neighbor, our family and friends, we are active. We are the “masks of God” as He serves them. And all of it becomes a joyful symphony of praise to our God.
You have heard the bell calling God’s people to worship, and marking this time off from the other time during the week. Without diminishing the importance of that “other” time, we are recognizing that something different is going on here, in this place, when God’s people are gathered by the Holy Spirit. This is time, unlike all other time, made holy by the saving presence of Jesus Christ. In order to help you recognize the difference of this time, you may wish to pray the prayer in the front of the Lutheran Service Book: “Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells. In the multitude of Your tender mercies prepare my heart that I may enter Your house to worship and confess Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, my God and Lord. Amen.” We bring all our baggage with us when we come to the Lord’s House; besides our sin, we bring our weakness and the weight of our lives. Sometimes we need a nudge, maybe even a push or a shove, in the right direction, to focus our minds away from our selfish thoughts and toward the things of God, which are why we come here.
Soon, I will speak the words of the invocation, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Invocation means “calling upon,” because we call upon the Triune God, who, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, have worked the salvation of the entire world in the central event of our Faith: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Speaking the Divine Name should immediately remind you that you have been claimed by this God in Holy Baptism. You have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, which, again, is at the heart of our Faith. You may notice that I make the sign of Jesus’ cross over myself; in order to remind yourself that God has put HIHis holy Name on you, you may also wish to make that ancient sign. It does not matter whether you move from right to left or left to right, but my practice is to move from right to left. In that washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, you were given the faith that trusts in the God who is, though it is beyond understanding, Three and One at the same time. In the Invocation, we speak back to God His promise to be wherever “two or three” are gathered in His Name, and we call Him to witness that we are indeed gathered in His Name alone. Thou shalt have no other gods.
“Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness” (LSB 184). Having been washed in and marked by the Triune Name of God, we “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” as Hebrews 10:22 puts it. Let us confess, beloved, that we are poor, miserable sinners who recognize that God’s judgment on us and on our sin is just and deserved. But we do not come before this altar in fear! We are in Christ! And “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we have confidence that our Father will grant us His forgiveness. The promise is there: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). Ponder then, beloved, your sin and I will ponder mine, and so we will speak: “I, a poor, miserable sinner….” And then, take heart, for you will hear Christ’s forgiveness from the mouth of your pastor. It is Jesus, remember, who breathes on the apostles as representatives of His Church and promises: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:22, ESV). To be sure, I am a fellow sinner and a simple baptized Christian, as you are. But I have also been put here for this explicit purpose: “I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word…” (LSB 185). You were witnesses of the charge laid upon my head, and my stole is the sign of that charge. What you hear is not my forgiveness, but Christ’s, and so, whatever my failings, know that Christ does not fail. “…in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins….” Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Now we speak the Introit. We enter. We have been forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ, and now we enter the sanctuary of God as His people, washed and cleansed and made new by His forgiveness. As this people, we speak words from the Psalms that have spoken by His people for thousands of years. Introits are different according to the week of the Church Year. They focus our attention on the theme of the service, which runs like a bright thread throughout, coming to the surface in hymns, Scriptures, prayers, and the sermon. These changeable elements of the service are called propers because they are “proper” to the day or season. (If anyone tells you that the liturgy is the same every week, talk to them about propers!) Those things that stay the same are called ordinaries because they are done “ordinarily,” that is, almost every week. At the beginning and end of the Introit proper to the day, we speak the antiphon, which particularly emphasizes the theme of the day. Prior to the second antiphon, we speak the Gloria Patri, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.” God is the author of all holy Scripture, both Old and New Testament. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). Because we are praising our God in the Gloria Patri, it is appropriate to bow toward the altar in reverence to God. These Introits are, like the Psalms from which they are taken, songs of praise. We do not generally read hymns, so perhaps, with some help from the choir, we can restore the practice of singing the Introits.
Then come the Kyrie and the Gloria in Excelsis. As so many do in the Gospels, so we cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” Kyrie eleison! We are not confessing our sins again so much, as our general human weakness. We find it hard to praise God. Our flesh is constantly dragging us back down into the mud of our laziness and apathy. Our song is highly appropriate: “Lord, have mercy upon us! Christ, have mercy upon us! Lord, have mercy upon us!” Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief. Jesus is merciful to those seeking mercy. What is the response of the people who fall at Jesus’ feet requesting mercy and receive it? Praise; worship of Him who heals bodies and souls. We find and sing this praise in the Gloria in Excelsis, which is simply the Latin for the first few words: “Glory be to God on high” (LSB 187). The Gloria has three sections: one praising God the Father, which includes the words of the angels announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds; one praising Jesus as the only-begotten Son of the Father, which uses the words of John the Baptist to proclaim that Jesus takes away the sin of the world; and one confessing the reality of the Trinity, and that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to be praised for our salvation. To engage your body in your worship, you may wish to bow your head when we sing “we worship Thee,” as a confession that you, now, praise the true God. And at all times when we speak or sing the name of Jesus, it is appropriate to bow, because, as St. Paul puts it in Philippians: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV). But you, by God’s grace, are not waiting until He comes again in all His glory to bow at the name of Jesus. You have been given faith to worship Him as the highly exalted one now. Bowing is a reminder of that. A third motion is to bow at “receive our prayer,” acknowledging that it is only from His taking away the sin of the world that we may offer our prayers to the Father through Him. Finally, it is appropriate to make the sign of Jesus’ cross at “art most high in the glory of God the Father,” recognizing the holy Trinity as the ground and sole cause of our salvation, which comes through Jesus’ cross. Let us now enter the sanctuary of God by the Introit and praise Him, bless Him, worship Him, glorify Him and give thanks to Him for His great glory.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.