Our church sign, below the new bell tower, advertises the “Sunday Service” at 9:00 am. Should it say “Worship Service”? Should it say “Divine Service”? What is happening as we meet on Sunday morning. Who is serving who?
There are two ways of looking at our gathering together. Normally the definition is that of a “worship service,” a time where we gather together to say “Yea God!” The Book of Worship for U.S. Forces, the military hymnal published in 1974, says:
“Through the ages the people of God have related to their Creator through the medium of worship and song. Books of Worship record some of man’s noblest expressions of his continuing search for understanding and meaning. Their pages flow in endless streams of song and Scripture, prayer and praise. They speak of the believer’s faith in the daily renewal of life and love between creature and Creator.“
Thus, to worship is to seek God, to ask for His favor because of our praise and thanksgiving. Worship is our work.
But what if Martin Luther was correct when he wrote, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”? Would we choose to go to church in order to praise a probably absent God? Oh, sure, God is everywhere, but omnipresence seems so much like an observer rather than a participant.
Consider the Lutheran doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. At the Words of Institution, the congregation says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” They are joining with John the baptist as he pointed to Jesus, “Hey, look, there is the One who is our salvation.” The Agnus Dei is a confession that Jesus is truly present, in an active sense, as we are gathered around the altar. What do you think, is the Word of God made flesh present in the readings from the Bible, in the sermon, and in the hymns?
Now we believe, teach, and confess that, as Saint Paul asserts, faith comes by hearing. The Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith through the proclaimed Gospel as well as the “visible Word” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each time you hear, “Your sins are forgiven,” Christ Jesus is truly present.
That view of our gathering says that we come into God’s holy presence at His invitation. The invocation, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” is not a magic incantation to conjure up God, to invite Him into our presence. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that we are gathered at His invitation, at His call, in the faith which He has given through Word and Sacrament.
Dr. Kenneth Weiting, The Blessings of Weekly Communion (CPH, 2006), wrote: “…the true presence of the living Christ in the Divine Service is also understood. This presence is not simply His omnipresence — His presence everywhere — but His saving presence, His presence in the concrete means by which He has promised to give us forgiveness and life. This is not Jesus in the air, whom we must try to contact through spiritual achievement. This is not Jesus in our hearts, whom we control with our feelings. This is Jesus who comes to us from the outside in specific, humble ways He has chosen to make our hearts new.”
With this understanding of our gathering together, we use the term “Divine Service” to confess that God serves us with the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting for the sake of the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We are privileged to be in His presence and He calls us so that He gives to us the fullness of His rich gifts of grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, life, and peace.
We are, as a congregation, considering the question of offering the Lord’s Supper on each Sunday. We are discussing this in light of the theology of worship, the spiritual benefits of the Lord’s Supper, and love for our neighbor who may need the assurance of God’s grace given by Jesus Christ.
Please pray for this congregation as we seek to serve our Savior by allowing Him to serve us.