You are a worshiper. You are not a spectator; Lutheran worship invites the active, full, conscious participation of each worshiper.
As a worshiper, you will be invited to listen to God’s Word and to Receive Holy Communion. You will have opportunity to confess your faith, to praise God, to pray, to offer yourself for God’s mission, and to share the peace of the Lord. You will hear a sermon, which sets the meaning of salvation through Christ in the context of present hopes, fears, and needs.
The pattern for Lutheran worship as a congregation is called the liturgy. Liturgy is working with words and actions to honor God. And we honor God by listening even more than by speaking. As the Word of God is proclaimed and the sacraments are enacted among us, the Spirit touches our lives. Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and With One Voice (WOV) provide a liturgy, a step-by-step sequence for corporate worship, which establishes continuity with the apostolic faith and communication with the contemporary world.
Be open to the Holy Spirit who will draw you into a congregation at worship as an active participant. Then liturgy will not be in a book only, but also in you. In the worship event you can encounter God and his people as you listen, pray, praise, and share in the sacraments.
God At Work
At the heart of our liturgy is God. He is graciously at work among us through the gospel, which centers in Jesus Christ. Christian worship always points to God’s acting and working on our behalf. But in Lutheran worship we especially emphasize the proclamation of the Word of God and the sharing of the holy meal we call the Eucharist, Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.
Like the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain, we can experience afresh in each worship service the message of great joy that “God is among us.” Whenever we gather to hear the Word and to receive the sacraments, Jesus is there in our midst.
So our worship glories not in what we offer to God, but in what God gives to us. The entire liturgy—but particularly the Sermon—seeks to give a clear, focused vision of the significance of Jesus Christ for our lives today. Therefore, we can say that we follow a gospel liturgy. That liturgy reflects God’s work for us and in us to which we respond with thanksgiving and commitment.
At the heart of the liturgy are two principal parts, which hold everything together: the Word and the Lord’s Supper. They stand like two snowcapped mountain peeks giving perspective to everything else. This ancient duo has guided Christian worship since the time of the apostles. While this structure allows variable parts, the simple twofold skeleton consistently gives the liturgy its basic shape.
The Word section in the LBW includes four portions of the Scriptures: First Lesson, A Psalm, Second Lesson, and the Gospel. The Sermon proclaims Christ, the living Word, and applies the Word to our contemporary world. The Hymn of the Day, the Creed, and the Prayers also proclaim the Word, but they serve too as our grateful and believing response to hearing the gospel.
The Lord’s Supper (the Eucharist or Holy Communion), the second central part of the liturgy’s structure, includes the Offering, the Great Thanksgiving, communion, and a Post-Communion song and prayer. In the simple food of bread and wine used in the Lord’s Supper, our Lord Jesus has promised to be truly present. To all who trust him are given the benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Again, it is God who is at work for us and among us.
The Service is Flexible
The simple, two-part liturgical structure, which Christians have used for centuries, provides much room for variety. For instance, lay leaders and seasonal variations in the liturgy are common. Around the Word and Sacrament sections, a beginning, middle, and end act like “accordion pleats;” the liturgy can be expanded or contracted according to the needs of the season or Sunday.
At the center of the Holy Communion, giving equal emphasis to both Word and Meal, is a “hinge” which moves us from one section to the other. It is the Sharing of the Peace of the Lord.
Even in the Word section there is flexibility and change each week. A schedule of Bible readings, called the lectionary, designates the passages to be read each Sunday. Christian churches in North America other than Lutheran also follow the lectionary’s Bible readings. Each week, then, the sermon has different content and application, confronting, comforting, and exhorting people from the Word of God. Designated laypersons may read the lessons each Sunday, a practice which also adds variety to the service.
After the meal of Holy Communion, the service quickly moves to its conclusion with a brief blessing, a song of thanksgiving, a prayer, and a benediction. The dismissal sends us out to witness in word and action to what God has done for us and for the world.
Never the Same Old Thing
While there can be much flexibility, some people still say the Lutheran liturgy is a routine doing of the “same old thing,” but think of the liturgy as lovers who keep saying, “ I love you.” It is the same old thing too, the same words, but because the love relationship is active and growing those same old words are constantly filled with new messages.
The liturgy rehearses God’s “I love you” to us and expresses our “I love you” to God. Again, if that relationship is vital, the same old words and actions of the liturgy can never be the same old thing! They will reflect another encounter with the living God. The familiar words and actions are vehicles for new meaning arising out of changing life circumstances lived in the conscious presence of God. Then, too, the same old words and actions keep us near the center of our faith, dependent on the faithfulness of God. The liturgy keeps us in contact with the once-for-all revelation in Jesus Christ, which has been celebrated in the Christian church for centuries.
The content of worship liturgy is actually a summary of the gospel. We could even say it is the Bible message set to music and liturgical text. The biblical message is sung, prayed, proclaimed, and enacted.
When we have encountered God at work among us in our worship and in our daily lives, our proper response is a life-long alleluia and a shout at the end of our worship, “Thanks be to God!” We place our “Amen” over all that the liturgy celebrates. We say, “Yes, it shall be so!”