Have you ever thought about why we do what we do in worship? Those of us who grew up Lutheran may think, “That’s just the way it is.” Those who grew up Episcopalian or Roman Catholic may have similar thoughts, since the traditional pattern of worship used by Lutherans is basically the same as in those tradition. Those who come from other traditions, or from no tradition at all, might find our worship quaint or confusing at first. Some, though, are struck by the profound grace of the words and actions we can come to take for granted. This was the case for Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, nationally know for founding House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. You can read more about that in her first book, Pastrix.
It has been my ambition for a number of years to produce an annotated order of service that explains in some detail the different parts of our service. So after being prompted by a couple of Grace members, I have decided to start to tackle that project in a preliminary way by leading you through the four main sections of our liturgy in my newsletter columns over the next four months.
The traditional pattern of worship that we use goes back to the early church. It consists of Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. You may have noticed those as the four major section headings in our order of service. As time went on this pattern began to be filled out and elaborated, especially once the emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and adopted the Christian faith. In the earliest worship assemblies, the gathering was just about getting everyone in the same place, typically in someone’s home. As Christians began to use buildings dedicated for worship (adopting the architecture of the Roman basilica), and as larger groups assembled for weekly worship, the gathering portion of the service became more formal – and took a little bit longer. Songs and chants were developed to cover the procession of the worship leaders into the worship space.
In our order of service, the opening hymn, the Kyrie, and the Hymn of Praise comprise the Gathering Song that begins the service. In the 8:00 service at Grace, we have tended to shorten the Gathering to the opening hymn and the Prayer of the Day. At the 10:30 service we add the Kyrie in Advent and Lent or the Hymn of Praise for most of the rest of the year. The exception to that rule is the season of Easter and major festivals of the church, during which we sing both the Kyrie and the Hymn of Praise.
Kyrie is short for Kyrie eleison, which means “Lord, have mercy” in Greek. This phrase is used by a number of people in the Gospels as they approach Jesus for help. So it has seemed good for us, who also need Jesus’ help, to begin our worship this way. In the longer version of the Kyrie, though, we pray not only for ourselves, but for the whole world, the universal church, and for our particular congregation.
In the Western, Latin rite, in which Lutheran worship developed, the Hymn of Praise has traditionally been the Gloria. The text is taken from the angels’ greeting of the shepherds in Luke 2. “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.” This is a fitting response to the Kyrie. It is God’s answer to our appeal for help, a reminder that in Jesus God has sent us a savior, born among us as one of us.
Since the introduction of the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) in 1978, another option for the Hymn of Praise has been This is the Feast, based on Revelation 5. This is especially appropriate during the Easter season, when the Christmas promise of the Gloria is now seen to be fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. Easter means that “the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign” in our lives and in the world. This is an even fuller response to our plea in the Kyrie.
After the Gathering Song comes the greeting, patterned after the greetings found in the New Testament letters (epistles) and the angel’s greeting of Mary in Luke 1, “Hail Mary, the Lord is with you.” The Greeting is followed by the Prayer of the Day, which sets the theme for the Sunday and finishes the Gathering.
You may have noticed by now that I have said nothing of the Confession and Forgiveness or the Thanksgiving for Baptism, one of which we begin with every Sunday. That is because these are not technically part of the worship service, but are rather preparation for worship. In the LBW the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness had its own page, emphasizing that it was really a separate service – a warm up for the main event, if you will.
I hope you will think about all of this the next time you worship. There is a lot of meaning packed into the few minutes of the Gathering. It is designed to help us be intentional about coming into God’s presence, asking for God’s help, hearing God’s gracious invitation, and preparing ourselves to hear God’s word for us. And that’s where I’ll continue next month.
+ Pastor Repp