How would we define worship? We would want to define it as a place where we say those things to God that are most pleasing to him; asking of him and receiving from him, thanking him, praising him, and being blessed by him. But how are we to know how to craft those words that would be appropriate? As Lutherans we answer that question by preparing our service of worship using the words God first spoke to us. We use God’s words, not our words. And so we call our worship the Divine Service, because God (the Divine) provides the words we use. The Divine serves us; and so our worship becomes what he wants worship to be.
Our God speaks and we listen. He acts and we react. He is the one who created mankind, the universe, and all that is in it; and he has not only created all things, he has also redeemed all things including you and me. We do not worship the creation, like an idol of stone or wood, nor do we worship a mere man or woman. We worship Jesus Christ: True God and true man, the redeemer of all humanity.
This redemption is an amazingly wondrous event. Because of it, we are drawn ever closer to him. We are drawn to his house, where he has promised to be present as together we worship him. As we receive his blessings in worship, he lifts up our hearts and we respond in songs of praise and thanksgiving. He molds us and shapes us to be the people he wants us to be; a more loving and kinder people than we would be without him. He actually builds us up so that we can be a little more like him each time we immerse ourselves in his Word and Sacraments. In so many words, this is how we would describe worship; and yet, we are attempting to put into words something that is ultimately inexpressible.
God calls us all to worship so that he may shower us with his blessings. These gifts are not received only by using words. God has given us five senses to use in knowing him. And so when you attend a Lutheran church, you may see many symbols and colors used in worship. You may hear language that sounds strange; sometimes God’s word sounds strange to those not familiar with it. All of this is done to make our worship a tangible, and more concrete experience. A cross reminds us that Jesus died on a cross in our place, paying for our sin with his own sinless life. Above the altar we see an empty cross, reminding us that although he died, Christ Jesus was triumphant over death, and rose from the dead and now sits with the Father in heaven. There are so many symbols of remembrance in our place of worship that it would be impossible to explain them all here, but all of them are used to give expression to our worship and to help us focus on the countless blessings God gives to us as we live our lives in him. In this rhythm of word, movement, symbol and color, we make our best attempt to express our thanks to God for eternal life.
Another way we express our thanks to God is through hymns and music. What is a hymn anyway? A hymn is a song that praises God. Again, we focus our worship on God’s words, not our words; and so we see Lutheran hymns teaching us about what God has done for us and not so much about what we do for God. We praise him by recounting what he has done, and not so much by simply thanking him with our own words. This means that you may find some of the hymns hard to sing or even hard to understand. That’s all right, some life-long Lutherans have the same challenge. But remember that this activity of worship is directed toward God. Some of our hymns are most definitely meat and not milk, but seldom will one find a more beautiful collection of worshipful psalmody and poetry than one finds in a Lutheran hymnal. And as in everything we do in worship, we want to offer our very best to God.
Our worship is centered on two things: Word and Sacrament. The Word of God, that is the Holy Bible, is the inspired inerrant Word of God; and because we believe this, we center our lives on it. It informs every decision we make. It informs the structure and form of our worship. God’s Word informs us of the way of our salvation, won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. But our Lord did not simply bring about a singular, though powerful, saving act long ago in history. He continues to be with us; coming to us through the hearing of his Word and through participation in his Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the presence of our Lord. We believe that through this Word and Sacrament, God actually unites with us, entering us through his Holy Spirit. He saves us, strengthens us in faith and body, and empowers us to live a Christian life.
The Word of God carries two primary messages: Law and Gospel. The Law gives us a special insight into God. God is true to himself. He is steadfast and does not expect us to live in ways other than those that emulate who he is himself. Because God is love, his Law teaches us how to love him and to love one another. We see Law in things such as the Ten Commandments. We also see Law in the words of Christ Jesus when he commands us to love one another as God loves us. Unfortunately none of us is able always to love. None of us can keep this Law perfectly. This is where the Gospel comes into play. The Gospel is the good news that despite our sins, our shortcoming in loving, God still loves us and sent his Son, Jesus, to rescue us from our own imperfection. In the Gospel we hear of the gifts God gives us. The greatest of these gifts is salvation. Because Christ died on the cross as full payment for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day, we are saved from Hell, and given eternal life as children of God in Christ.
Here again, we focus on God’s words, not our words. And so, we begin by recognizing whose supper this is. It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours. For this reason, we feel obligated to celebrate it in the way he has commanded it to be celebrated. Participation in the Lord’s Supper requires a shared understanding of its meaning, namely, that the body and blood of Christ (the very body that hung on the cross and the very blood that dripped from his side) are truly present in, with, and under the bread and wine used in this sacrament; and by this body and blood we receive the forgiveness of our sins. We believe this even though it is beyond our understanding as to how such body and blood can be present. God’s word teaches us that one who partakes of this sacrament without discerning the body of Christ eats and drinks judgment upon himself. Therefore, in Christian love, we have established guidelines for participation for those whose doctrinal beliefs are not fully united with the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod:
We ask those who are not members of The Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod to speak to the Pastor or an Elder about participation before reception of the Lord’s Supper. Those who recognize the real presence of Christ in this sacrament and have faith in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” are urged to participate. This is what we believe, teach, and confess. We rejoice in the opportunity to worship together with you, and if you agree with these belief statements, you are most welcome to join us for this sacrament.
We also welcome non-Christians to our worship. Obviously, we cannot invite you to the Lord’s Supper since you do not share our faith in Christ. However, we do invite you to join with us in prayer, and we pray that our worship might touch your heart as you hear how Jesus Christ died so that you too can have eternal life. Please feel free to speak to the pastor if you have any questions about our Christian faith.