I am sometimes asked why Lutherans worship the way we do. Our Sunday worship is much different than what we may see on TV or experience when we visit another denomination that does not confess the reality of the sacraments God has given to His church. Sunday worship is purposefully intended to be different from our worldly experiences; its purpose is not only to give us the vision of our ultimate eternal reality, but it physically connects us to the kingdom of heaven through Jesus. We need only to see through “spiritual” eyes to view the imagery that Christians have shared for almost two millennia. Since imagery implies visual context, I asked Zach Ruschill to provide the illustrations below to help tell the story of worship.
For many centuries, it was a standard practice of a king or emperor to tour his territory after triumph in war to proclaim his absolute victory over the enemy – a victory tour. The king would not show up to a town unannounced, he would send a herald, an ambassador, to notify the town and prepare the town for the king’s arrival. During this period, prior to the advent of gunpowder, towns encircled with walls would post a continuous watch so that people could be alerted to any significant actions such as the appearance of an enemy army or a royal visit.
The king in all his majesty would enter the town and proclaim his message of victory and make pronouncements regarding various petitions and royal actions. Such an event was truly special to the town for this connected the townspeople to the entire kingdom and afforded a moment in time to celebrate the peace, which the victorious king achieved through battle. This victory tour also solidified the absolute authority of the king. Such interaction between monarchs and subjects has taken place throughout history and there are various examples such as the Roman Triumphus that included a procession, banquets, games, entertainment, and commemoration.
The above description of a king’s victory tour is not unlike the vision of the Divine Service.
There are variances as to how Divine Service is celebrated in congregations but for the most part, the service begins with an entrance hymn where a procession takes place, similar to Hope during feast days, where the cross (king’s standard) leads the pastors (heralds) into the nave (town’s square).
The pastor speaks the invocation, the beginning of the Service of the Word where we hear about Jesus’ impending visit, the proclamation of His victory, and His promise of supporting us in this life.
The congregation, in turn, offers petitions and offerings in response to His Word. Prior to Jesus’ visit, the congregation “cleans up” by confessing our sins and hearing the words of forgiveness in Christ from the Pastor, readying the “town” to receive the King. This concludes the Service of the Word. The best is yet to come!
The Service of the Sacrament is nothing less than the reality of Jesus dwelling in the midst of His church in physical form in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. This is not the result of our imagination; we are in the very real physical presence of the crucified and risen Savior. We are bound to all of God’s family, in heaven and on earth, through His flesh and blood. This is no different than if we were to go back in time and sit with Jesus as He preached to people and healed them. The only difference is that we see our God through the bride’s veil of our earthly, fallen existence. So for one moment in time during the week, we dwell with God, a foreshadow of the time when we will pass through death’s portal, see our God without a veil, and receive our crown of life as we process in our Roman Triumphus as a result of the victory achieved by Jesus.
The above describes why Lutherans worship the way we do. We see things from a completely different perspective than the rebellious world—we are sojourners in this life. Worship, throughout the history of God’s people, has been a time where God sanctifies us—sets us apart—to show us the true reality of eternal victory that awaits us after our battle on earth is finished.
Church is the place where God dwells in the midst of His people. We all need to be regularly connected to Jesus and each other through weekly worship.
See you in church!