ELCA Worship

Lutherans Are Really Not Strange
The Word of God
Foundational principles
Emphasized text
Hymn of the Day
Lord’s Prayer
Lamb of God
Confession and Forgiveness
Holy Communion
Apostolic Greeting
Post-Communion Blessing and Canticle
Hymn of Praise
Benediction and Dismissal
Prayer of the Day
Sending Hymn
The more clearly a congregation can see its ministry exemplified in the liturgy and the ideals of Martin Luther, the more well-formed the congregation itself will be.
Lutherans Are Not Really Strange; Pastor Paul Elbert
Lutherans are not really strange. In fact, historically, Lutherans have been around longer than any other Protestant denomination–not surprising in that Martin Luther is considered the father of Protestants. Of course, Luther detested that any group would be called “Lutherans.” As he often said, ‘Who is Luther? It is only Christ Jesus who matters!’ Yet, the opponents of the 16th Century Reformation referred to all those who supported the reforms advocated by Martin Luther as “Lutherans.” Hence, the name stuck.

The Lutheran Church of the 21st Century continues to speak out of the Scripture that informed the changes to which Luther, and the reformers that followed him, advocated. The key scripture is found in Romans 3: 21-26 . . .

But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight — not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.”

In essence, Lutherans understand that Jesus’ death on the cross is the basis for our being made friends, again, with God. There is nothing else required to repair a relationship we break by our disobedience to God’s will. God repairs the relationship with us through Jesus even though we don’t deserve it. We call that “grace.” But, we also believe that God continues to expect that, in our repaired relationship, his children will obey God. That is, we are expected to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

We do not obey this commandment from Jesus so that we might earn forgiveness for what we do wrong. We already have this forgiveness based on Jesus’ death. We don’t obey this commandment so that we might earn a place in heaven. Jesus has already prepared a place for us (John 14:1-3). We obey this commandment so that we might demonstrate our “thank you” for what Jesus has done for us in the way we live.     Therefore, we refer to ourselves as a “thanksgiving people.” We don’t say “thank you” very well. We try, but we often fail. So, we come to God’s house on Sunday and begin each service with a “we’re sorry.” Then we hear God tell us, “I have heard your apology. I have told you that you get a “mulligan” so go out into the world and try again.

We hear God’s Word read and explained and prayed so that we might be informed and inspired in how to live a “thank you” life. Then, we top it all off by going to God’s table – God’s “Thanksgiving” Table – where we celebrate a special meal with all those who are worshipping God with us – where we receive the energy to go out in the world to live our “Thanks be to God” lives. That’s how we end our Sunday worship, with the words “Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!”

We are all trying to learn to say “Thank you” more consistently and more creatively. That, to us, is “speaking Lutheran.”

Foundational principles:
  • Jesus Christ is the principal actor – he is the focal point
  • Change will happen – expect transformation
  • Meets us where we are and carries us through an intelligible progress to a different place
  • Liturgy enacts the gospel
  • Most profound impression that worship may make on a stranger is that an assembly of believing and doubting Christians is honestly engaged with God.
  • Open to change

Emphasized texts: scripture read, spoken, sung and prayed.

Liturgy is doing something rather than reading something.

The greeting “the Lord be with you” signifies that a new phase of the liturgical action is about to begin.

Prayers are best done by the Assisting Minister as they are a response of the people to God’s word.
After the Confession and Forgiveness we sing the Entrance Hymn. This hymn sounds the keynote theme of the day and is sung as the worship leaders follow the cross from the narthex (the entrance that leads to the nave) through the nave (Latin for “ship” or the place of the congregation’s assembly) to the chancel (the elevated place of the altar. The altar symbolizes the presence of God.) Because our focus as Christians is always on the cross, it is appropriate that as the cross enters the nave that we turn and face the cross and follow it with our eyes as it processes from the narthex to the chancel. (It is very traditional to reverence the cross by bowing as it passes by you.)
Following the Entrance Hymn is the Apostolic Greeting. The Presiding Minister greets the people with the words of St. Paul (“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” 2 Corinthians 13-14), and the people respond. In this way we recognize ourselves as fellow apostles (from the Greek apostolos meaning “messenger”). We are getting ready to hear and experience the message with which we will be sent at the end of the worship service!
You will notice that following the Apostolic Greeting (“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…”) comes the Hymn of Praiseaddressed to Christ. The ancient Glory to God recalls the Christmas song of the angels (Luke 2:14), and is used especially during the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany. During Advent and Lent the Hymn of Praise is omitted.

We continue with the Prayer of the Day which brings the first section, Gathering (or Entrance Rite), to an close. Historic brief prayers reflecting the focus of the day; it also forms a bridge from the gathering of the people to the second major section of the liturgy: the proclamation of the Word. The Prayer prepares the people to hear the lessons appointed for the day.

Having Gathered (the entrance rite) for worship our attention now shifts as we hear the Word of God (God speaks to the people). There are usually four parts . . .

  • The First Lesson is almost always from the Old Testament and relates to the Gospel lesson of the day.
  • The Psalm is from the “hymn book” of the Bible and is chanted or recited in alteration with the choir or the Assisting Minister.
  • The Second Lesson usually comes from one of the letters (epistles) in the New Testament. A Verse is sung in preparation for the Gospel.
  • Because Christ is especially present in this reading, the people stand in respect, and acclamations of the people precede (Luke 2:14) and follow (Acts 4:21) the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.
The Sermon follows the gospel reading and should be guided by the lessons. This is not the time for the pastor’s “opinion,” but should be a considered meditation of the readings for the benefit of the congregation. It is the living voice of the Word, today. TheHymn of the Day, as the chief hymn of the service, is then sung in response to the lessons and sermon. The recitation of theCreed, as a response to the proclamation of the Word of God,follows. It is an historic summary of our common faith. The Nicene Creed (written in 325 A.D.) is recited on festivals and for Holy Communion. The Apostles’ Creed (whose content can be traced to as early as 215 A.D.) is used on all other days. The Creed is not a prayer, but a confession to which Christians all around the world adhere. So, it is recited boldly with eyes wide open.
The congregation has passed the peace of Christ and the offering begins the third part of the Lutheran liturgy—the Meal(Eucharist, Holy Communion). The offering is not “dues” and not an obligation. It is simply our response of time, talents and possessions to the Word we have thus far received. The  offertory is the choral song that relates the offering to the rest of the liturgy as the offering is brought forward. It is not surprising, therefore, that the presentation of the offerings at the altar is that which has liturgical significance.
The Eucharistic Prayer is the high point of the Great Thanksgiving. It is a narrative—our telling of the great story of God, now. The rituals in which any religion engages bridge time and space making what happened in the past a contemporary experience. In the celebration of the Eucharist we “remember” Christ in a profound and biblical way. This re-membering of Christ with ourselves is the goal of the act of thanksgiving (eucharistia is Greek for “thanksgiving). We are “re-minded” of the promise contained in Jesus’ life and death (and therefore speak of being, not improved, but transformed by the mystical eating and drinking of mere morsels of bread and wine in which we confess that Christ. We confess that although the bread and wine are not changed in substance—they remain bread and wine—they do mysteriously convey in, with, and under their elements, the true body and blood of Christ Jesus).  The narrative has brought the bread and wine to the center of attention—here is the pinnacle of our entire worship experience! No wonder the congregation concludes the Eucharistic Prayer with a hearty “Amen!” (which means “So be it!”)
The Eucharistic Prayer is completed. We have once again heard the words instituting our Lord’s supper. We respond with theLord’s Prayer—the table prayer of the congregation. We pray the words that Jesus taught all of his disciples—us. Considered the “perfect prayer,” it outlines all that we need for a life of faithfulness to the one God. We then sing the Angus Dei (“Lamb of God”from Exodus 24 and John 1:29). This beautiful and reverential canticle reminds us that Christ is the Lamb of God that was sacrificed to free us from our sin (Galatians 1:4) and restore us into God’s good favor—for we could not do it for ourselves. We approach the Lord’s altar to receive the forgiveness of our sins through this second of the two sacraments Lutherans celebrate.
Post-Communion Blessing and Canticle

After all have received communion and returned to their places, the congregation stands at the invitation of the presiding minister. The Presider may proclaim the Post-Communion Blessing after which the congregation breaks out in song, singing the Post-Communion Canticle. A Post-Communion Prayer is recited by the congregation bringing to a close the mass of the Holy Supper.

Benediction and Dismissal

The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper is complete. The presiding minister blesses the people with either the simple Trinitarian blessingfrom the 11th Century, or the or the Old Testament Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27). The sign of the cross may be made.

Sending Hymn may be sung which summarizes Christ’s mission, through us, to the world.

At the conclusion of the hymn, the assisting minister may dismiss the people with a vigorous assignment to “Go in peace; serve the Lord.” The congregation responds with equal enthusiasm, “Thanks be to God.”

Our service to our Lord does not end here. It simply assumes a different form in the activities of our daily lives. We have been strengthened for just this kind of mission to the world by the Holy Supper. Yes, thanks be to God!


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