From the time of Jesus’ ascension until now, Christians have gathered together in the name of our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. Sundays have become the regular day that we gather around the word and sacraments. We read in the book of Acts, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
The Liturgy is the form and structure that this gathering on Sunday morning takes. It is the words and actions used to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through God’s words, offer the sacraments for the spiritual comfort and strengthening of believers, and express the Christian’s faith, gratitude and joy.
Just as Christ took on human form to reveal the love of God for us, the liturgy is the form we use to hear and see God serve us. It is also the form we use to respond to God with our service of praise and thanksgiving.
The liturgy is not a form that was developed by any one individual. The liturgy we have has developed over centuries of use in the church.
The liturgy developed from many sources. It includes elements of the Old Testament church in words like “Amen”, “Hallelujah” and “Hosanna”. Also the Old Testament Psalms are used in the service. Greek influences can be seen in the use of lights. Early Christian influences are seen in the use of New Testament writings, the creeds and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
In the book of Psalms (the hymn book of the people of Israel), we hear many times the people sing and make music to God. In Psalm 98:4-6 we read, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King”.
We also read about the New Testament church using music as part of their lives together as Christians. Paul wrote, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Eph. 5:19 and “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
The Lutheran church has used music richly as part of our services. Music is present in the liturgy, hymns, choirs, instruments and in our voices. Music is not only a way to “make a joyful noise to the Lord”, Psalm 100:1, but it is a way to teach the truth of God’s Word.
Believers in both the Old and New Testament times used God’s gift of music in worship services. Christian churches continue to “burst into jubilant song with music” Psalm 98:4 and “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” Ephesians 5:19.
As Lutherans, one of the ways we continue to use music in our worship services is in the liturgy. The liturgy includes the words we speak or sing to serve God. They are words which express what we have learned from God about sin and forgiveness, about grace and love.
Most of the liturgy we use in Lutheran worship services comes from Scripture. For example, when we sing “This is the feast” we are singing from Revelation 5:12 and when we sing as part of the Preface “Lift up your hearts” and “Let us give thanks” we are singing words from Lamentations 3:41, Psalm 86:4, Psalm 7:17, Psalm 100:4 and others.
Putting these words of scripture into music not only adds to their beauty, but also helps us remember the words through the power of music. Christian churches continue to “burst into jubilant song with music” Psalm 98:4 and “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” Ephesians 5:19.
Lutherans have been called the singing church. We have a history of using great hymns as part of our worship to God. Our hymnals have been assembled with hymns from the earliest of centuries to hymns written more recently. For example the words of “Savior of the Nations, Come” are attributed to St. Ambrose 340-397 A.D. and the text and tune of “Thy Strong Word” are from 20th century writers.
Luther understood the power of hymns as a method of teaching the truth of God’s Word. Hymns are used to support a specific theme of a day or a particular event or celebration. Singing hymns also sets our spirit in different moods for different times and seasons of the church year.
Scripture tells us that many instruments can be used to sound praises to God in worship. In Psalm 150 we read, “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.” Ps. 150:3-5 All these instruments and more can be used to praise God.
One of the inventions which have helped us bring many of these sounds into the church is the organ. This is an instrument designed to imitate the sounds of other instruments as well as have its own majestic sound.