It will likely seem very unfamiliar at first. You are welcomed warmly, but the atmosphere is reverent. Candles are lit. The Pastor who greeted you actually turns away from the people to offer a prayer of invocation, calling on the Name of the Triune God.
You will probably have questions:
- Why does the Pastor keep turning around, to talk toward the wall?
- Why does he dress the way he does, and bow the way he does?
- Why all this talk about sin, and how can the Pastor dare to forgive it?
- Why kneel? Why stand up and sit down, over and over again?
- Why can’t I come up and eat and drink what the members receive?
You’ll realize right away: this is not like those services where the preacher’s primary purpose is to entertain, and the people’s purpose is to experience a high that manifests itself in pouring out pure emotionalism. Here, it’s not about you. It’s about Christ. It’s not about you—it’s for you.
Who Is Serving Whom?
Some say you should come to church to serve God. Truthfully, that’s not the only thing. That’s not even the main thing. We sing and bring gifts as offerings of thanks to God, who serves us first. We pray and petition God in our need, on the strength of His words, as He gives these words to us.
In the Divine Service, you are entering into the most intimate conversation between the Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” Ephesians 5.
He promises: “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I among them,” St. Matthew 18. In the Divine Service, you stand on holy ground. The Lord is there—to serve you.
Why All This Ceremony?
When we are speaking to Him, we look toward His table, at the foot of the Cross. Then, when He speaks to us through His servant the Pastor, the words change direction. Though a man is speaking, it’s not to be his own word, but God’s Word through him.
St. Paul, who was faithful in this ministry, wrote to the Christians: “We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers,” 1 Thessalonians 2. The Pastor’s dress and demeanor in the Divine Service all serve to teach these things.
As you go through the motions, rising and sitting, folding your hands, bowing your head, making the sign of the cross if you wish, you are learning through these acts and the words associated with them. You learn reverence. You learn humility. You learn confident trust in Jesus, who said: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many,” St. Matthew 20.
This Above All is What We Need: Jesus
It’s written: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” I John 1.
God is pleased to do this outwardly, openly and publicly, so you don’t have to blindly feel your way to heaven. You see heaven opened to you. You hear the forgiving word which comes not from men but from Christ, who promised us: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven,” John 20. You rise to meet Christ as He comes to you in the spoken Absolution, the Words of the Holy Gospel, and the feast of Holy Communion—which we eagerly desire to celebrate with you, when you know our faith and confession, and come to believe it as we do.
What we do in worship is not merely tradition for tradition’s sake, but to teach, to comfort, to strengthen faith, to set a sound pattern for daily prayer and meditation on God’s Word in the home, and through these words and outward acts, to bring eternal truths home to your heart.
Thus It Is Written
The Risen Lord Jesus said: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations,” Luke 24.
Repentance and Forgiveness: The Law and the Holy Gospel. That’s our pride and joy. That’s the Word that God hides away in our hearts. The Gospel of Forgiveness is the Word by which He saves us, and provides the cause and incentive of a life of good works. That’s what we invite you to experience with us, and receive God’s blessing to depart in peace. Come and see!
We’ll see you Sunday!