Why we do what we do during worship
Imagine walking into a church for the very first time. What would you notice first?
Maybe it would be the cross, maybe the hymnals (or lack thereof), maybe it would be the pastor's attire. Perhaps you'd wonder why in the world he wears a robe. Why does everyone stop in the middle of everything to shake hands? Why do they pass around plates expecting people to fill them with money?
What the heck is all of this about?
Well in most ELCA churches, we follow the Liturgy, which is a basic pattern that begins with Gathering, followed by Word, Meal, and Sending. This pattern has been used since the earliest time of worship in the Christian world. We use this liturgy because it keeps us in solidarity with churches around the world and keeps us focused on God.
In the following paragraphs, I (with help from the ELCA website) hope to break down the Liturgy and explain why we do each specific piece.
Statement of Faith
“For it is by Grace you have been saved through faith, and it is not of your own doing. It is a gift from God. — Ephesians 2
This verse is at the core of Lutheran Theology and we say this together at the beginning of the service as a reminder that it is all about what God has done for us and not what we must do for God. We cannot do anything to save ourselves as God already did the saving with the death and resurrection of Jesus. What we do is unwrap this gift from God by loving our neighbors and being in community with them!
Statement of Inclusion
For years, the worldwide Church has done a great job of excluding people. Oftentimes, the church doesn't even realize it's doing it. Now, in the 21st century, there are people who have been hurt by the church who do not want anything to do with the church. So, it's on the church to be intentional about creating a space and welcoming those who have been hurt in the past.
We do confession in church on Sunday morning as a reminder that we are in big trouble without God. Sure, as humans we like to think we have it all together, but we always fall short. We hurt each other, we hurt ourselves, we hurt the environment.
With confession, we state that we do not have it all together, that the world is broken, and that we have not loved our neighbors with our whole hearts — all of which is true. This is important as there is a certain type of humility that comes along with putting it all on the table.
After the confession, we receive the absolution as a reminder that we have a loving and forgiving God who is with us in the midst of us trying to figure out how to be human together.
Passing of the Peace
Sharing God’s peace is not simply offering a friendly hello to those sitting around you.
Sharing God’s peace is not a time for catching up on news with your neighbor or for
reminding someone about an upcoming meeting. Sharing God’s peace does not require
each worshiper to offer a sign of God’s peace to every other worshiper present.
The “exchange of peace” (also commonly called “sharing the peace” or “passing the
peace”) is an act of reconciliation that serves as a transition point between the Word and Meal portions of the liturgy. We share the peace as a sign of reconciliation with each other before taking communion.
Christians are a people who seek reconciliation with one another. Making peace is a daily action in our lives. We do not need to wait to come to church on Sunday morning in order to make peace with our neighbors and our family members. Sharing God’s peace is a
In the time of the early church, not many people could read, so the holy scriptures would be said aloud so all could hear the word of God. People would gather around and listen to what was being read and what that meant for their lives. Likewise, we sit in church and we listen to the word of God being proclaimed like all of our Christian descendants who came before us.
“Through preaching, God gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and
when God wills, in those who hear the Gospel.” — Augsburg Confession, Article V.
The sermon is not a teaching moment. It is not entertainment moment. It is a time for the Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection to be proclaimed in the church. In the sermon, we hear the good news of what God has done for us from which we should get a sense of hope and freedom. In our lives, we go through a lot. We are human. When we gather on Sunday, we hear the sermon and we hear that no matter what happens and what we go through, we are forgiven and we are loved. No matter what. We receive grace in the sermon by hearing the gospel.
“As the earliest Christians tried to make sense of God’s decisive act in Jesus in light of the Hebrew Scriptures and what they were witnessing in the life of the church, they came together to write a creed that reflected their faith. We continue their tradition, and hold fast to that creed today.”
Prayers of intercession
“The prayers of intercession, spoken for the needs of the church, the world, and all people, have been included in Christian worship since the second century. These follow the proclamation of the word of God in readings and preaching and are a response to that life-giving word. In sure and confident hope of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, these prayers express the assembly’s particular concerns for the whole world and for all people. Before Holy Communion, the community turns outward, recognizing that the grace offered in word and sacrament is for the sake of the whole world.” — Living Lutheran magazine
Everything we have comes from God our creator. When we take offering in the church, we are giving back to God what God first gave to us. There are verses in the Bible that remind us where our treasure is, our hearts will be also. We do not give an offering to bargain with God, we give out of joy for what God has done for us so that we can better God's kingdom.
Christ comes to us in, with, and under the bread and wine to nourish the faith of Christians and the church. We share in a sacred meal that spans all time and space. We commune with the saints who have gone before us and with other Christians around the globe who gather at our Lord’s table. The un-containable presence, grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy of Christ come to us in simple bread and wine.
There are many examples of Benedictions in the Old and New Testaments. A benediction is a blessing that we receive before the end of the service. With the benediction, we are sent with the promise of God’s gracious presence in our lives!