A Brief Explanation of the Divine Service

+ Our Liturgy +

If you were to ask most people what “worship” is, they might say, “Worship is praising the Lord”, or “Worship is what human beings do to express their thanks to God”, or “Worship is going to church.” While there’s certainly truth to each of these answers, they don’t adequately describe the main purpose of Lutheran worship.

Lutherans have a unique perspective on worship, or maybe it would be more correct to say, a Biblically informed historical perspective on worship. We know that God’s Word and His holy Sacraments are His precious gifts to us. They are the tools the Holy Spirit uses to give us forgiveness, life and salvation. The main purpose of Lutheran worship is to receive these gifts from God. God is always the good Giver and we pure receivers of His grace. God gives His gifts in worship. We receive them there. In fact, that’s why we call what goes on on Sunday morning, Divine Service. Whether the music is organ lead or modern instrument lead, what’s going on is God coming to serve us, much more than we coming to serve Him. On Sunday morning God calls His people together to deliver His gifts. So it is that as His Gospel is proclaimed, as His Word is read, as His forgiveness is pronounced and sinners are truly forgiven, and as we receive our Lord’s body and blood in Holy Communion, His gifts are received. In these wonderful ways, God is present with us, drawing us to Himself and giving us what we need so much - His mercy, His forgiveness, His love, His peace and His comfort!

The purpose of Sunday morning, therefore, is to be gathered by God around His gifts. The greatest thing we can offer Him, our greatest worship, happens outside the walls of our church during the week, in our being His hands and feet and voice in the communities in which we find ourselves, in our families, the workplace, as parents and children, all living and acting as the people of God, doing the best job we can with the talents He has given us, and witnessing to the forgiveness of sin Jesus’ spilled blood won for us on the cross.

That being said, our worship is going to look and sound a bit different.

• It’s historic - much of its structure going back to the days of the early church and Synagogue worship before that.

• It’s Christ-centered and Biblical - most everything we say and sing in the liturgy is straight from the Bible and focuses our attention on Jesus and not on us. (We’re really sticklers on this - even when it comes to funeral sermons.)

(The following services as a brief explanation of the different parts of Divine Service.)


We begin the Lord's Service in His name because He promised that where His name is, there He will be. Calling upon the Holy Trinity also helps us remember our own baptisms where God put His name on us through water and the Word. The Invocation is a reminder of God's promise given to us at baptism. (
Matthew 18:19-20)


Our Lord instituted a glorious way by which He has chosen to forgive our sins. We come before God, CONFESSING nothing but our sins. There is no sin which holds us outside of our Lord's forgiveness. With the ABSOLUTION, through the words of the Pastor, Christ delivers to us, in a most personal way, the forgiveness of sins which He earned for us on Calvary. (
John 20:21-23)


With our sins forgiven, our worship moves to the presence of the altar. The Pastor moves to the altar to speak the ENTRANCE PSALM it gives a visual picture that because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and the unconditional forgiveness we have just received, we have access to the Holy of holies - a place kept separate under the Old Covenant by a heavy curtain which was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died. (
1 Peter 2:5 )


KYRIE, means, "Lord, have mercy." We greet our Lord as people of old greeted a king when he came to their city. It is the oldest and most frequently prayed prayer in Holy Scripture. It was prayed by Adam in the garden, King David after he confessed his sin, by the Canaanite woman, the leper and others. We pray here for peace and salvation for ourselves and unselfishly for others; that the Lord would indeed continue to show His mercy to all of us.


God’s response to our cries for mercy was to send His Son. The GLORIA IN EXCELSIS (meaning, glory in the highest) reminds us of this by inviting us to join in singing the first Christmas carol, one sung by the angels when Jesus was born. (
Luke 2:14 ). The GLORIA continues by praising the Holy Trinity, centering on the theme of why Jesus came; to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29 )

Having our sins forgiven and the assurance that God indeed is merciful is reason to sing a HYMN OF PRAISE. This hymn is the very song sung by the angels at the birth of the Christ-child. Our singing GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST is a way of celebrating Christmas the whole year long and also a way in which we are invited by the angels to "go and see" Jesus who no longer lies in a manger but in the Scripture readings which will follow. (
Luke 2:13-15 )


An alternate HYMN OF PRAISE is the hymn, THIS IS THE FEAST. It is the song sung by all those in heaven who are gathered around the throne of Christ in the Revelation God gave to St. John. We, too, join with the whole company of heaven declaring Jesus the worthy Lamb of God. (
Revelation 5:12-13 )


The greeting, "The Lord be with you" and its response, "And also with you" signal a transition in the Lord's Service from praise and prayer to the hearing of God's Word in the lessons for the day. The words, “The Lord be with you” remind us of one of the names of Jesus, Emmanuel, which means "God with us." This prayer collects the varied thoughts of the lessons for the day and combines them into a single prayer. (
Ruth 2:4)


The reading of a number of Scripture lessons dates back to the time of Jesus and beyond. Luke tells of Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue, in which readings from the Law and the Prophets also took place. The lessons are God's Word to us and are the testimony of the Old Testament Prophets, the Apostles, and the writers of the Gospels. Together with the Creed, they form the profession of the Christian Church.


The word "sermon" comes from a word which means to talk or converse. The sermon's job is to deliver God's Law and God's Gospel and in a personal way give the assurance of the forgiveness of sins which Christ earned for us on the cross. Jesus gives us the topic for all sermons when He says: “Then He (Jesus) opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations...” (
Luke 24:45-47 ) After all, that's what St. Paul meant when he said: "We preach Christ crucified... the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)


The CREED embodies the Church's ancient and universal confession of faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we say the Creed we are saying to one another and back to God what He first said to us in Holy Scripture. Millions and millions of other Christians throughout the world and across the ages have confessed these very words as their statement of faith.


One who has been "born anew of water and the Spirit" cannot help but pray. Even when our poor, human flesh is incapable of praying, the Spirit itself "intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." The Lord urges "that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone." Following the command of our Lord, we take time to PRAY, bringing those requests before the Lord. (
1 Timothy 2:1-2 )


The OFFERING of gifts to the Lord is our response to all that God has previously given us in this life and for what the Lord gives to us this morning. It is like saying to God, "Thanks, your gifts to me were received." The musical offertory was originally a psalm or hymn sung during the bringing forward of these gifts. We sing from Psalm 51 .


So much is contained in the next few words of worship. "The Lord be with you" - the risen Lord speaks peace to us. So also we respond, asking the Lord's Spirit be with the minister. Then we "Lift up our hearts...", hearts raised from the sin-drowning waters of baptism and will be raised on the last day. For that it is only right to give God thanks and praise. Finally, we sing Holy, Holy, Holy, echoing Isaiah's encounter with the Lord recorded in Isaiah 6 . (
2 Thessalonians 3:16 ; Lamentations 3:41 )


THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION were spoken by Christ at the first celebration of the Lord's Supper. Here in the Sacrament of the Altar, where Christ Jesus mysteriously unites His body and blood with bread and wine, we have assurance from Christ Himself, that the forgiveness of sins is given to us. Forgiveness of sin is the chief benefit of this most holy Supper. (
Matthew 26:26-28 )

All is now ready for this holy communion with Christ. The PEACE OF THE LORD is again an assurance of blessing. Following it, we sing a short song in praise of our Savior, the LAMB OF GOD who takes away the sin of the world. Isaiah wrote that the Christ would be "like a lamb led to the slaughter" and that He would "pour out his soul to death." These words are also the words of John the Baptism when he saw Jesus. All who partake of the Sacrament receive the benefits and blessings of Christ's work and are sustained and nourished in their spiritual life in Christ.


The following song, sometimes called the NUNC DIMITTIS, is the same song sung by Simeon in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus “to present him to the Lord” (
Luke 2:22 ), after having been promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Christ. Not only have our eyes seen the Lord’s Christ by faith, but now even our mouths have tasted the goodness of the Lord. Indeed, then we “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” as the Psalmist declares”.


The word "benediction" comes from the Latin meaning "the good word." THE BENEDICTION are good words with which the service ends. As we leave to go out into our life and calling, the Lord's name is with us to energize our lives that we may serve the Lord in all we say and do. The words of the benediction are the same words Aaron was instructed say, blessing the children of Israel during the wilderness journey. (
Numbers 6:24-26 )

For further discussion on this topic, listen to this Issues, Etc. interview.