If you are unfamiliar with Lutheran worship, it can seem strange and hard to follow. We hope the following will help you understand what’s going on. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance!
Our worship service is called Divine Service because the main reason we gather is for God (the “Divine”) to serve us with His Word and Gifts (“Service”). In the Divine Service there is a constant conversation happening between God and the people. The pastor speaks God’s Word of peace and forgiveness to the people, and the people speak that same Word to each other and back to God. This conversation is called the liturgy. That also means “service”; the service in which all the people participate. You are the liturgists!
While it may seem like the liturgy is made up of a bunch of unconnected pieces, there is an order to it that has been developed and refined for almost two thousand years. The basic outline is this: Word and Sacrament. No matter which Setting of the Divine Service we are using, there is a Service of the Word and (on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month) there is a Service of the Sacrament. The center of the Service of the Word is the reading of the Scriptures and hearing the sermon. The center of the Service of the Sacrament is the Words of Jesus (called, “The words of Institution,” because they instituted the Holy Communion) and the eating and drinking of Christ’s Body and Blood with the bread and wine.
Everything else that surrounds either of those central parts is in place to support either the Word or the Sacrament. The Word is surrounded by things such as the Introit (which means “entrance,” or the true beginning to the Divine Service); the Collect (a prayer that “collects” all the prayers and concerns of the people and summarizes them with the theme of the day); the Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory in the highest,” a song that begins with the song of the angels at Jesus’ birth and ends with praise of the Trinity); and the Creed (either Apostles’ or Nicene, where we speak God’s Word back to Him as our faith’s confession).
The Service of the sacrament is surrounded by things such as the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God,” where we sing the words of John, confessing that Jesus is the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins); Sanctus (“Holy,” where the song of the angles in Isaiah 6 is combined with the words of the crowds on Palm Sunday; here we welcome Jesus as god, but coming humbly to us hidden in bread and wine); Nunc Dimittis (“now dismiss,” where we sign with Simeon and thank god for allowing us to see by faith Jesus our Savior in the Supper and confessing that we can now go peacefully to death).
Even though the order of the formality may seem foreign to you, there is a very good reason for using the liturgy that has been handed down to us. Throughout the entire history of the Church, this form of Christian worship has kept the central thing central; the good news that Jesus has taken all of your sin to Himself on the cross, died under the weight of sin and God’s wrath, that He is alive, and—here and now—delivers to us all His forgiveness, life, and salvation. The intent of the liturgy is that the people of God receive all his gifts of mercy, in both Word and Sacrament. Not only that, but the liturgy has been used in all cultures, all languages, by every sort of people. That means that even if we didn’t speak the same language, people who use the basic form of the liturgy would recognize their faith given expression, from Athanasius in Alexandria, Egypt to Ambrose in Italy to Augustine in North Africa to John Chrysostom in Constantinople, to Bernard of Clairvaux in France, to Luther in Germany, to our own grandparents. The liturgy is not bound to any one time or place, so it can be used in all times and places.
We hope that this introduction helps you catch what’s going on here on a Sundaymorning. If you have questions—which you should—the pastor is interruptible.