A Study of The Divine Service
Lutheran Service Book
The Word of God in the Liturgy
From the time of Jesus’ ascension until now, Christians have gathered together in the name of their crucified and risen savior Jesus Christ. To come together in the name of Jesus, means that we come together with faith in the message of the Gospel.
Christians began gathering together regularly on Sundays to hear the good news that Jesus had fulfilled the promise of God to send a savior. When they came together, the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper were the focus of their gathering. They read words of promise from the Old Testament and listened to the message of the apostles as they told the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection. 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 the prayers.” Acts 2:42
The Divine Service
The term Divine Service, when used to name the gathering of Christians together on Sunday morning gives us the understanding that something divine is happening not something human. Using this term helps us to understand that when we gather around His Words and Sacraments, it is God who first comes to serve us. In the Word, God teaches us about our sins and tells us about His forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. In the sacraments Jesus comes to us, gives us faith and the assurance that through faith in Him we receive forgiveness.
In both the hearing of the Word and the receiving of the supper, God works through the Holy Spirit to give us and strengthen in us our faith. It is truly God’s divine service that is the center of the gathering of His people. Having received God’s service to us, we respond by serving Him with our praise and thanksgiving. The emphasis of the service becomes Jesus coming to be with us, not our gathering together.
Luther Reed in his book The Lutheran Liturgy wrote this about The Divine Service:
It lives to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and through that to reveal God to the world.
It lives to offer the Holy Sacrament for the spiritual comfort and strengthening of believers.
It lives to express the faith, gratitude, and joy of Christian communities.
WHAT IS THE LITURGY?
The liturgy refers to the form that the Divine Service 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. In the Lutheran Service Book today, we have a liturgy that has developed through centuries of use by the church. It developed as people of faith gathered together to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and follow the command of Jesus to partake of His supper. The liturgy we use today has developed from many sources. It includes elements from the Old Testament church in such words as “Amen”, “Hallelujah” and “Hosanna”. Also the Psalms are used extensively in The Divine Service. Greek influence can be seen in the use of lights and in the modal system underlying medieval music. Early Christian influences are seen in the use of New Testament writings, the use of creeds and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
BENEFITS OF THE LITURGY
The greatest benefit of using the liturgy is that most of the liturgy is based on and uses the Word of God. For example, the Invocation uses the words which Jesus spoke to His disciples in the words of the great commission: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Matt. 28: 19 Other examples are the words for the Introit which are most often taken from a Psalm and the words of the Offertory, “Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.” which are taken from Psalm 51. There are other very well known verses of scripture that are part of the liturgy such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Benediction.
Another great benefit of the liturgy is that it teaches us about our faith week after week. Because it has developed over centuries of use, it includes the main teachings of God’s word for our salvation. Every week we are reminded of our sins and of God’s plan of salvation. Its words have been tested by generations of faithful believers to be true statements based on God’s teaching if not the direct words of God Himself.
Because so much of it remains the same from week to week, another benefit is that it provides an opportunity to participate for someone who otherwise couldn’t if the form changed every week. For example, it allows children who can’t yet read to learn the service by memory and participate. Also it allows anyone else who can’t read because of lack of learning or poor eyesight to be part of the service.
Even outside the Sunday morning setting it has proved to be a great gift to pastors who are ministering to the sick and elderly. The words of the liturgy are familiar ground to those who may not be able to come to church or whose mind is forgetting many other things. The liturgy which was learned by heart and taken into the heart comes back to many who may forget many other things in life.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE SERVICE
- The service is divided into three divisions
Preparation: We first prepare ourselves for the service. The Preparation is not found in early liturgies. Its origin is from the preparation that priest would do before leading services. It grew into a preparation that the whole congregation does before the beginning of the service.
This Preparation includes:
- A Hymn of Invocation
- The Invocation
- Confession and Absolution
Service of the Word: This division starts with the Introit and includes the lessons and the sermon. It ends with the prayers after the offering.
Service of the Lord’s Supper: This division starts with the Preface and continues through the
- The service is divided into two actions.
In these actions of the service we see God serving us. For example in the reading of the lessons, the preaching of the sermon, the distribution of the supper and the blessing at the end of the service, we see the Lord teaching and strengthening us. Traditionally the leader faces the congregation during these actions. He is representing God to the people. In these actions of the service we serve and approach God. For example in hymns of praise, confessing the creed, and prayers we speak in response to God. Another way of
describing these actions is as devotional actions. Traditionally the leader faces the altar during these actions. He is representing the people to God.
- The service is divided into two types of elements.
The Ordinaries are the elements of the liturgy that do not change from week to week. For example the Kyrie, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Common Preface, Sanctus, Benediction, etc. remain the same as they represent our unchanging beliefs and needs.
The Propers are the elements of the liturgy that change from week to week. They include the Introit, Collect, Lessons for the Day (OT, Epistle and Gospel), Gradual, and the Proper Preface. Also the hymns and sermon should be thought of as Propers. The Propers focus on the theme of the service for the day.