Frequently Asked Questions
Lutheran Worship Explained
In his discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). We realize that the Bible has not given us a prescribed order of worship. According to Jesus’ words the two important things are worshipping with a right attitude/heart and seeking His truth in the Word of God. We have Christian freedom in establishing the structure of our worship service. At the same time, we recognize that there are biblical reasons for the basic components of our service.
The Lutheran worship service begins with a hymn of praise. The purpose of this hymn is to change the focus of our hearts and minds from the world around us to our God, who created us. The Liturgy begins with the invocation to remind us that we are here to worship the one true God. He is Triune. The invocation also reminds us of our baptism. Baptisms most often take place at this point of the service.
The first major part of the service can be called preparation for the Word. Just as we might prepare ourselves for a meal by doing certain things, so also we prepare ourselves to worship God properly by confessing our sins and receiving absolution/forgiveness. First, the pastor invites us to confess our sins; then, we join him by confessing our sins. We confess both what we are and what we have done. Then we plead for God’s mercy in the short liturgical song called the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy); and finally, the pastor announces that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
After we have received the assurance of God’s forgiveness, we respond by praising God in a liturgical song, which emphasizes that Jesus is the Son of God and the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This first major part of the liturgy concludes with a Prayer of the Day. This prayer is the first “proper,” the first part of the liturgy, which changes each Sunday. This prayer gathers together the main thoughts of the Sunday and leads us into the second major part of the service.
The second major part of the liturgy is called the Word. In this section we hear the Word of God in Scripture readings and in the sermon. We use two or three Scripture readings in our liturgy, usually an Old Testament lesson and a New Testament lesson (called either the Gospel or Epistle). These Scripture readings are also propers and are part of a cycle, which is repeated every three years. The Gospel lesson is highlighted by a short verse sung before and after the reading. In between the Scripture readings are the Psalm of the Day and the Verse of the Day. These also are propers and serve as a bridge from one Scripture reading to the next.
After the Gospel we confess our faith with the words of the Apostles’ Creed. This creed connects us to the Christian Church at the time of Jesus and His apostles. It is a clear and concise testimony of what we believe about the one true God and what he has done for our salvation. The Creed is followed by the hymn of the day, which prepares us for the sermon. The sermon is usually based on one of the Scripture readings and is the focal point of the Word of God.
The third major part of the Lutheran liturgy is our response to God’s Word. We first respond to God’s Word by offering to Him our hearts in a short liturgical song which begins: Create in me a clean heart. Then we offer to God the labors of our hands in the offering which is gathered by the ushers. And finally, we offer to God our prayers. Our prayers include the Prayer of the Church, special prayers for special needs and blessings, and the Lord’s Prayer.
The regular worship service concludes with a closing hymn, a closing prayer, and the benediction/blessing. There are different forms of the blessing, but the most commonly used form is taken from the book of Numbers in the Bible and connects us to God’s people who lived 3,500 years ago at the time of Moses and Aaron. Although the benediction is the end of our liturgy, it is not the end of our worship. For the real purpose of the Lutheran worship service is to fill us with spiritual strength and wisdom to serve and worship our God throughout the days and hours of the week which lies before us.
We need to keep in mind that liturgical worship is and ought always to be chiefly God’s service to us in Word and sacrament and secondarily, ours to him in receiving what he has come to give us. Thus the liturgy is an integral part of the service, not just busy work leading up to the sermon. Christ is the focus of Christian worship.