The word “liturgy” means “service.” The whole life of the Christian, the whole of your life and my life is our liturgy (i.e., our service) to Almighty God our Creator and Redeemer. The apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Church at Rome, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, ESV).
One part of our Christian life is our corporate worship. In worship we offer our combined “service” or liturgy to God as His people united as one in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In this setting, we offer our liturgy to God as we gather together to worship Him. In this corporate worship, the traditional liturgy of the church calls us to enter into His presence and we speak to Him in prayer, confession, praise, supplications, and thanksgiving. In return, He meets with us and He speaks to us through His Word and Sacraments. The worship service is what has been called “the recurring moment of high splendor.” In other words, it is the highest point of our calling and union with God and with each other, as we worship Him together as one people with one voice to the One True God.
Recently we have looked at two important questions. During the months of June and August we looked at answers these questions: “Why the Liturgy?” and “What is the Liturgy?” In answering the first question we learned that Martin Luther and other reformers saw great value in retaining certain practices of the church, the traditional liturgy of worship. The Reformation was not about scrapping everything in the Roman Catholic Church and starting over. It was about reforming the church – keeping the good, casting aside the bad, and reforming that which could be maintained in light of the truth of God’s Holy Word. In other words, the Reformation sought to keep the clear teaching and practices of the apostles and the early church fathers which honoured the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, much of the Liturgy we use in worship today remains unchanged.
As to the second question, “What is the Liturgy?” the Liturgy is the time tested model and pattern that we embrace and use to help guide us in the true worship of God. The Liturgy keeps us focused on those attributes and components of our worship that are revealed to us and expressly commanded by God Himself in His Holy Word.
This month we will begin to look at the particulars of the Liturgy, the various parts of worship and how they connect us to God, to the church in heaven, the church on earth, and to each other. In worship we are individuals that have come together as one in a spiritual union with each other united with Christ our Saviour. In this relationship, we offer up unto God the one thing that He truly seeks and desires, “…those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” [John 4:24, ESV].
For the purpose of this series of pastoral articles on the Liturgy, I want us to consider the Liturgy of Word and Sacrament. With this in mind we will follow the Liturgy of those Sundays when we gather to worship and incorporate the sacrament of Holy Communion into our service.
This month, we start with our preparation for worship. To do this let us consider the question, “How do we prepare ourselves to enter into the presence of the Lord?” The psalmist wrote, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:6f).
We should not and we must not enter into the presence of the Lord unprepared. We should never consider so much of ourselves as to presumptuously enter into the presence of the Almighty God, the Sovereign King of heaven and earth, without first preparing ourselves. As we look at the structure of the Liturgy we first note the time of preparation. Any time we gather together as the people of God for worship we need to remember who we are, we are the redeemed of the Lord, purchased by the blood of the Lamb, and must remember who God is, the sole object of our worship. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to enter into His presence through the Invocation and through our Confession & Absolution.
Our English word “Invocation” comes to us from a Latin word meaning “to call upon.” The words of the Invocation are familiar to us, “In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These powerful words of prayer and affirmation act as a simple creed.
As we embrace the words of Invocation we affirm three significant elements of truth that are creedal in nature: (1) We are confessing whom we believe. He is the One true God eternally existing without beginning and ending as the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; One God equal in glory, power, authority, and worthy of worship; (2) We are asking for God Himself to meet with us, to be with us, to make Himself known among us through His Word and Sacraments, to receive us as His children, to forgive us of our sins, to strength us in the true faith, to fill us with hope and anticipation as the day of our His appearing draws near, and to comfort us in accordance with our needs; and (3) The Invocation is traditionally associated with a call to remember our Baptism, not so much in the words but by our actions. By making the sign of the cross as we hear the words of the Invocation, we are calling upon the Name of the Lord and inviting Him to meet with us as we enter into His presence to worship Him.
Today, many see the sign of the cross as too Roman or too Roman Catholic but the truth is, making the sign of the cross is very Christian. It reminds us of our need and that apart from God’s cleansing us by the baptism of His Spirit we would still be dead in our transgression and sins (see the words of Jesus in John 3:3, 5; and Paul in Ephesians 2:1-10). Consider the words of Pastor Davie Oberdieck who wrote, “We received both the name of the Trinity and the sign of the cross at Baptism. We received the name of the Trinity by divine command. Since Baptism gives us the benefits of the cross, the sign of the cross was placed upon us according to the tradition of the church. This should be a reminder to us that God, who washed us and cleansed us in Baptism, is the one who has brought us into the worshipping community.”
Following the Invocation, we prepare ourselves to enter into the presence of the Everlasting God through Confession & Absolution. Before we draw near to the True and Living God who has revealed Himself to us as “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8), we must first confess our sins in true repentance and faith remembering His promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9)
Confession speaks to the very heart of the human problem. That problem is our sin. In Confession we acknowledge our sins, our unworthiness, our bondage to sin, and our inability to free ourselves from the power of sin. In our confession, we cry out for God’s mercy as we pray, “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.”
With our words of Confession we acknowledge our sin and our need for God’s redeeming power through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Then we hear the words of Absolution, “Almighty God, in His mercy, has given His Son to die for us and, for His sake, forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all our sins, in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
As we hear those words of forgiveness and hope they confirm for us, once again, the promises of God, promises He has spoken to us His people! As we hear the words of Absolution they remind us of God’s power to overcome and to release us from the power of sin and to forgive us completely of all our sins – past, present, and future – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Liturgy provides for us the proper preparation for us to enter into the presence of Him who is “Holy, holy, holy” – the Lord our God, the Saviour of sinners! Every week as we worship, let us worship Him “in spirit and in truth” to the glory of His Name. Amen!
Thanks be to God!
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