Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 2011: How Lutherans Worship, Part III

I am continuing our exploration of the worship service. Previously we explored the "Service of the Word" where we received grace through the written/spoken Word of God. We will now continue with the third part of the worship service called "The Service of Holy Communion." In the Service of Holy Communion we are confronted by the real presence of Christ. It is here that we receive grace from God in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The Service of Holy Communion

  • Offering/Offertory: The Offering of the people is gathered as the altar table is made ready for the Lord's Supper. Offerings of money are given as an expression of love and gratitude for God's blessings. Along with these gifts, bread and wine for Holy Communion are presented to the altar (by uncovering). An Offertory canticle is sung.
  • The Great Thanksgiving: Just as Jesus, at the table with His disciples, offered thanks in accordance with Jewish practice, so we embody in our celebration a prayer of thanksgiving. The Preface, in which the minister bids us to lift our hearts to God and give thanks, begins with the words "The Lord be with you..." The Preface Proper states the particular reason for thanksgiving: "It is truly good, right and salutary..." It climaxes in the canticle "Holy, holy, holy" where we unite with the heavenly hosts (Isaiah 6:3) and with the church on earth (Matthew 21:9) in singing "Hosanna," to adore God and to welcome the Savior who died for our salvation and now comes to us in the Sacrament. The Eucharistic Prayer, recounting the history of God's salvation, is prayed and terminated with the Lord's Prayer.
  • Words of Institution: The scriptural words which tell us of Jesus' institution of the Sacrament are recited, in order to consecrate the bread and the wine. We pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit that we might be prepared rightly to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which, according to His promise, are now truly present in Holy Communion. We are to confess: our need for a savior, Jesus' real presence, that forgiveness comes through Jesus' death on the cross, and that we receive that forgiveness when we receive His body and blood "in, with and under" the bread and wine.
  • Sharing of the Peace: As we begin the communion rite, the minister shares a word of peace. This is not only a recognition that we have peace with God, but a proclamation that we have peace with each other.
  • The Communion: As the consecrated elements are distributed to the communicants, we sing the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God", John 1:29) as a confession that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are reminded of that forgiveness of sins at the communion rail in the words - "the Body of Christ, given for you..."; "the Blood of Christ, shed for you..."
  • The Post-Communion Canticle: After we have received Christ's body and blood we sing "Thank the Lord... ," a song of rejoicing. During Lent we sing "Lord, now you let your servant go in peace" (Luke 2:29-32), the words which Simeon spoke as he rejoiced that he had seen Christ, a joy we share because we have received Christ in the Sacrament.
  • Benediction--a blessing: The pastor pronounced a blessing using the Aaronic benediction from the Old Testament (Numbers 6:24-26): "the Lord bless you and keep you..."
The legacy of our Liturgical Worship Service is indeed a gift from our forefathers. When we worship, it is like worshiping with all the saints over all time and space, together at the feet of the Father.

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