The beautiful and majestic liturgical service

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For years, every Saturday I sent out a Constant Contact phone call to my entire congregation and all of our local visitors. My comments were always quite similar. Oh, every Sunday or every season had its specifics for sure, but I always said, “I invite and encourage you to attend one of the services here tomorrow. We will have the large contemporary service at 9:15 a.m. and Sunday school at 10:20 a.m.

Then these words came out of my tongue and out of my heart: “And we will have the beautiful and majestic liturgical service at 11:15 a.m.”

I happen to be a person/pastor who enjoys both contemporary worship and liturgical worship. I know not everyone does. In fact, my experience tells me that most people have one or the other as their only favorite.

I know this: God receives both kinds of worship, both kinds of music as true worship from Him. My prayer continues to be that both forms focus on Him, and Him only, and neither turn inward and focus on the form of worship and not singularly on God. Let’s not worship our worship. Amen.

My comments today relate to liturgical worship. As I mentioned above, I quite naturally call it “the beautiful and majestic liturgical worship”. More recently, at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, the world saw and experienced the “beauty and majesty” of liturgical worship and music. Granted, it was right at the height of liturgical worship, much like the Pope’s Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Cathedral, but all liturgical worship has that same “beautiful and majestic flavor.”

What makes liturgical worship liturgical, however, is not really “the sights and sounds,” but rather simply the “repeating order” in which these things happen. The “liturgy” is simply the ancient, biblically based, repetitive order of what happens in service. This order dates back centuries and is mostly preserved in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Church of England, and Episcopal churches, with liturgy in lesser degrees in many other churches as well.

What is this “repetitive order”, this “liturgy”? That’s it.

The Prelude. Beautiful music, most often pipe organ, to set the mood and spiritual nature of the worship to follow. An instruction from many churches at this time even gently proclaims, “We talk to God before the service and to each other after the service.

Confession and Forgiveness. It is “collective”, by all worshipers at the same time, but each receiving God’s forgiveness as spoken in Jesus’ Name by the pastor/priest.

Entrance hymn. It is here that the “majesty” begins to manifest itself as the cross, lighted candles and worship leaders move up the center aisle to the front, the chancel.

Apostolic salvation. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The faithful respond: “And also with you.”

The Song of Praise. Again, this is beautiful and majestic music and lyrics. These are often the words of the angels at the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. “Glory to God in the highest…” An alternative points directly to Holy Communion to follow, “It is the feast of victory for our God. Hallelujah…”

The prayer of the day. A thematic prayer related to the Bible lessons designated for the day.

Bible readings. The Church has developed a three-year rotation of Bible readings. This “lectionary” (list of “readings”) uses the three years so that the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke are each emphasized in a full year, with the Gospel of John scattered throughout each of the three years.

The lectionary includes for each Sunday a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm to be read or sung “in response” (the pastor and the people going back and forth by verses), and a reading from the New Testament not taken from the Gospels . After three years, this cycle is repeated with the same readings for each Sunday of the “liturgical calendar year”. I will talk about it in a future article.

Reading the Old Testament

Psalmody (sung/sung)

Second Reading of the New Testament

Gospel Acclamation (sung). “Hallelujah, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.”

Holy Gospel. Once again, from Matthieu, Marc, Luc or Jean.

Sermon. Usually based on the designated Gospel for the day, but latitude is certainly permitted according to the preacher’s heart and the occasion in the congregation. The emphasis in our Lutheran preaching is always first on the law of God, which condemns and humbles us with our sin and our sins, then the sweet word of the gospel of God in the life and love of Jesus -Christ, who died on the cross to forgive us of all our sins and rose again so that we, too, might have eternal life, and have his joy and power in our lives at this time.

Hymn of the day. Theme in the sermon, from the repertoire of the great hymns of the faith.

Profession of faith. Liturgical churches make a profession of faith by declaring the words of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, two emphatic statements of our belief in one God, but Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Church prayers. Several petitions of praise and thanksgiving to God and also asking for those things that God might bestow upon His Church and all people. Pastor: “Let us pray for all the people of God in Christ Jesus, and for all men according to their needs.”

Sharing Peace. Sometimes it’s just between the pastor and the people responding collectively, but sometimes it’s also people actually offering each other “The Peace of the Lord” individually with an appropriate handshake or hug.

Offer. Yes, our tithes and our offerings for the Work of Christ throughout the Church and in the world.

Offertory. A verse sung to bless the offerings given.

Offertory prayer. A prayer to bless the offerings given.

The Great Thanksgiving. This is the general name of the celebration of Holy Communion, which must follow.

Dialogue. “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you…”

Clean preface. Communion prayer specific to the liturgical day.

Holy, Holy, Holy. Singing “Hosanna to the highest…”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. It is the long prayer of remembrance and thanksgiving for all that God has done throughout biblical history, including the words spoken by Jesus on the night he was betrayed, in which he blessed bread and wine and gave them to his disciples as his Body and Blood, now Holy Communion.

The Lord’s Prayer

Distribution of Holy Communion. Those who truly believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for the forgiveness of their sins and the strengthening of their faith, eat and drink accordingly.

Sing during Communion. Sweet hymns of assurance.

Prayer after Communion

Blessing. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you. The Lord raises his face upon you. And give you His peace. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”

Sending the anthem. A hymn of joy and encouragement.

Dismissal. “Go in peace! Serve the Lord! “Thank God!”

Postlude. Rocking pipe organ music to send disciples out into the world to both love and serve.

So! The “beautiful and majestic” liturgical service.

In its purest form, I would suggest St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta. It only takes about 30 minutes to get there on a Sunday morning.

Worship at 10:30 a.m.

1824 Piedmont Avenue NE

(Heritage Preparatory School)

Atlanta, Georgia 30324 (http://www.SaintMartinLutheranChurch.org)

[Kollmeyer, a retired Lutheran pastor, is a thirty-six year resident of Fayette County. He offers his pastoral and preaching services to any and all Christians, as his schedule allows. Reach him by making a comment to this article.]

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