The people of Immanuel Lutheran Church are a “liturgical” people – that is, they worship using the traditional liturgy. In a day in which there are so many other options, one would do well to ask why. Why would a congregation freely choose to make use of worship forms that date back to the early centuries of the church? Perhaps before answering that question, we might first ask one more basic still: What IS worship? What makes Lutheran worship distinctive from others?

 

There is a tendency today to view worship as something WE do for God; it is OUR singing, OUR praising, OUR speaking. And the word “worship” is used precisely this way in our culture and language (check the dictionary!) The word itself comes from the English “worth-ship,” to ascribe “worth” to something or someone. That’s something WE do. It’s easy enough to see how this understanding has come about. If a child never sees the party and the giving of gifts, he might think that birthdays are all about thank-you notes to friends and relatives. In the same way, if what God does for us on Sunday mornings is minimized or obscured, we begin to see worship in terms of our response - what WE do for Him.

 

Our Lutheran Confessions serve as a great corrective on this prevalent misunderstanding. Having already established the gospel as the foundation of the church, our Confessions (Article IV of the Apology) go on to describe worship as faith:

 

                “Faith is that worship which receives God’s offered blessings; the righteousness of the

                law is that worship which offers God our own merits. It is by faith that God wants to

be worshipped, namely, that we receive from him what he promises and offers.”  

 

Why is this so important? Because the very nature of God’s gifts in word and sacrament shapes and defines the form of their delivery. In other words, what we believe is happening during worship shapes the way we worship. What makes Lutheran worship so distinctive is our grasp on the central truth that worship is all about God being really present to serve us through His Word and sacraments. The rhythm of our worship always moves from God to us before returning from us to Him. As the Introduction to one of our hymnals says: “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise.”

 

All of this takes us back to our initial question: why we use the liturgy in our worship. The question is answered as we consider the both the definition and benefits of liturgical worship.

 

First, the liturgy is NOT what the organ plays or what the pastor does. It is not the ritual or the melodies, but an ordered set of Scriptural texts and poems in which the people of God encounter the living Christ. These passages have been developed by the church over (literally) thousands of years, being modified as needed from time to time, but always with the purpose of better serving the gospel, the forgiveness of sins. All of the movement, the symbols, and the ritual is there to serve the Word, to point to Jesus Christ and what He is doing for His people.

 

The liturgy maintains the Scriptural emphasis upon the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and the sacraments. It is made up of passages from God’s Word or paraphrases of it, and is a carefully balanced proclamation of both law and gospel. Through the liturgy, we are reminded of our ongoing need to be killed and made alive again. Each Sunday, God is present and offers us much more than simply an opportunity to celebrate. Liturgical worship is both a re-drowning of the old man and a restoring of the new. Other forms of worship can easily miss this focus.

 

But can’t we keep all this in mind and write our own? Well, perhaps - but at both a great risk and loss. The risk is that your pastors’ work will fall far short of what the church has taken so long to bring together and shape. And when we “create our own” we lose our continuity with the church over both space (across nations and cultures) and time (across centuries past and future).

 

But do we need everything in the liturgy? Can’t we “trim” it down some, pick and choose? Again - yes, we have the freedom to trim, snip, move around, delete whatever we wish. And, in fact, there is considerable variation in what is added or left out as we go through the church year. But the Divine Service is a unit, a connected whole, a balance between law and gospel, gift-giving and thanksgiving, petition and praise. The liturgy proclaims the person and work of Christ in a way that mirrors the church year itself, from Advent to Pentecost.

 

But it all seems so repetitious - I am used to variety and choices in my life! True enough, and a certain amount of variety can help us keep our attention focused. But it is repetition that forms the deep memory that shapes our faith, that gives us something solid in a constantly changing world. The liturgy, far from being tied to any one culture or time, actually stands outside of culture over and against our infatuation with the “new,” the “instant,” that which is expedient and disposable. It is a great counterbalance to our tendencies to live only for ourselves with little thought or care to what went before or what will follow. The liturgy, then, is the church’s safeguard both against the personal agenda of pastors and our natural pre-occupation with “self.”

 

Tradition? Yes - but also balance, completeness, continuity with both past and future, deep memory grounded in the means of grace. As Lutherans, we are surely free to devise our own worship forms or adopt those of others. But those who worship at Immanuel believe that the liturgy offers the most effective means of delivering the gifts of God to the people of God.

 

We hope you will join us each week in being the joyful recipients of those gifts…