From the time of the Apostles the Church has united together in worship of our Triune God through a service centered on two parts, mirroring the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus where the resurrected Jesus made Himself known through the Word of God and the breaking of bread (Luke 24:13-31).
The first section, the Service of the Word, grew out of the worship practices of first century Jewish synagogues, which focused upon the reading and preaching of particular Scriptural texts.
The second portion, the Service of the Sacrament, developed around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which Jesus bestowed upon His Church prior to His crucifixion.
Through the services of Word and Sacrament our Triune God continues to make Himself manifest in our lives and worship. Our Lord continues to use the liturgy to convert and strengthen His people, drawing us together as the Body of Christ.
Below is a brief explanation of each element of the Divine Service.
Each section features a link to in-depth discussion with Rev. Will Weedon, former Director of Worship for the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and host of The Word of the Lord Endures Forever Bible study podcast.
The Service of the Word begins with the Invocation:
"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
We gather for worship because God has called us. The pastor states this in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Invocation claims the promise of Jesus that “where two or three are brought together in my name, there I am among them” (Matt. 18:20).
We acknowledge our sins beginning with the words of 1 John 1:8-9. The pastor then forgives all repentant sinners in God’s stead and by His command (John 20:22-23). Traditionally confession and absolution was conducted individually outside of the worship service, meaning that this is considered preparation for the Divine Service proper.
The Latin word “introitus” means “entrance.” At this point we enter into the service as penitent sinners. In the Middle Ages a psalm was sung as the ministers processed to the front of the church. Here the faithful enter into His holy presence, beginning the historic order of service.
“Lord, have mercy” is a translation of the Greek phrase “Kyrie eleison” (pronounced Kee-ree-yay e-lay-son). Our crying out for mercy upon entering the presence of the living God indicates we aware of our own unrighteousness, and of the righteousness that He freely gives us. We use the same words as the ten lepers, “Jesus, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:11-19).
After having cried out for mercy, we now express our confidence in that mercy by singing the song of the angels at Christ’s birth, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:13-14). This is an early hymn of the church dating from A.D. 530.
The Salutation is more than just a simple greeting. It shows the special relationship between pastor and congregation in words drawn from Philemon 25 and Galatians 6:18.
In the early church the Collect was a prayer that “collected” the prayers of the people. Since the Middle Ages it has been directed to the needs of all in a particular season or festival. This is a prayer of the whole church in which the Pastor’s voice, alone, signifies the unity of the faithful.
References to the reading of Scripture as part of the service appear in Luke 4:16-17, Acts 13:14-15, and 1 Timothy 4:13. The practice of reading Old and New Testament selections is noted as early as A.D. 150.
The Old Testament prepares the way for the Gospel. The Epistle deepens our knowledge of the Gospel. The Gospel is filled with the good news of our salvation.
The selections follow the calendar of the church year and are arranged in a three-year cycle. The first historical reference to a fixed set of readings comes from the fifth century.
The readings are framed by singing. Between we the Old Testament and Epistle we sing the Gradual, and before the Gospel we sing the Alleluia.
We stand and say aloud, for all to hear, exactly what we believe regarding the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creedal formulae appear already in New Testament times (1 Cor. 15:3-5, 1 Tim. 3:16). The Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal creed of the churches of Rome, was quoted by Tertullian in A.D. 200. The Nicene Creed, used when Holy Communion is celebrated, took its final form in A.D. 451 at the Council of Chalcedon.
This is the principal hymn of the Divine Service and is associated with the readings of the day. Its use dates from Reformation times (1526). “Oh, the wise invention of the Teacher who devised how we might at the same time sing and learn profitable things!” (St. Basil, 4th century).
At Zion we often sing the "official" Hymn of the Day elsewhere in the service. Before the sermon we sing a “Hymn of the Month” every week throughout each month for us to learn by heart together.
The church gathers around Word and Sacrament: pulpit and altar. In the sermon, just as Peter in Acts 2:14-36, the pastor preaches and teaches. He proclaims the work of Christ and applies it to our lives. “When I spoke and preached, the Spirit proved the truth to you so that your faith may not be based on man’s wisdom but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).
In offering money as an expression of worship, we are responding to God’s claim on our lives and giving Him a portion of what He has in fact given us (1 Chron. 29:14). This is an act of worship, done with dignity and thankfulness of heart.
Many Christians practice the discipline of tithing. After the example of Abraham (Genesis 14:17-20), we give back a tenth of what we earn for the Lord's use at Zion. The collection is used to provide for the bread and wine, the altar, the building, and indeed everything we need here in service of the proclamation of God’s Word and administering the Sacraments.
As the offering is gathered the altar is prepared for Holy Communion. A portion of a psalm of thanks is sung while the gifts are presented.
“I urge you to ask, pray, plead, and give thanks for all people” (1 Tim. 2:1). Prayer is one of the most important acts of the faithful gathered in worship. Here the congregation asks on earth what the Father in heaven may do for it. Petitions and thanksgivings are offered for all in authority and for human need. Praying for one another, this is a gathering point of the church as we prepare to partake of the Sacrament.
The Service of the Sacrament begins with the Preface:
"The Lord be with you."
We echo the words of 2 Timothy 4:22, Lamentations 3:41 and Psalm 136.
Early in the Church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper these ‘sentences’ were attached to the Words of Institution as a preface or preparation for reception of Jesus’ body and blood. Their original form has changed little over 2,000 years of use. This is a dialogue that has resounded throughout the centuries as the Church has proclaimed in this bread and cup our Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The Western Church expanded the Preface in order to connect the Service of the Sacrament to the particular season of the Church Year being celebrated (e.g. Lent, Easter). The concluding words of this prayer are joined with all other Christians in heaven and earth and even the very angelic host.
The Sanctus and Benedictus serve a dual function in preparing us to receive the Lord’s Supper. The Sanctus acknowledges the glory of the Lord whom we worship. The Benedictus then signals what takes place in this Supper-that we receive the true body and blood of Jesus, the one coming in the name of the Lord. We welcome him with shouts of joy.
When Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them what we now call the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Included into communion liturgy around the 4th century AD., it has become the central prayer of the Christian Church. Its short and concise lines contain every subject for which we should pray. All of our needs and desires are summed up in the very prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed to the Father in Heaven.
The Words of Institution (drawn from Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25) are the very words our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the night that He was betrayed. They consecrate and set apart the bread and wine for this holy meal. Jesus has charged his Church with the command to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Therefore the Church is continually drawn together anew to receive His body and blood.
This song was incorporated into communion liturgy ca. 7th century AD. ‘Lamb of God’ is the translation of this Latin title. This short hymn drawn from John 1:29 blends together several theological strands. Jesus, as the sacrificial lamb of God, lays down his life at the cross to take away all sin and now here in His Supper we receive the body and blood, which grant forgiveness through this sacred eating and drinking. This hymn prepares us to receive the sacrament worthily.
Prior to the receiving communion we recall its sacred nature and the severity in which Paul warns against improper reception (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). We therefore contemplate our need for forgiveness and our sure trust that this is Christ’s body and blood for our benefit. Luther says, “that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”
During the distribution we sing hymn reflecting the theme of the day and meditating on the gifts we receive in the Lord's Supper.
The Nunc Dimittis is also known as Simeon’s Song. It's name comes from the Latin for “Now, you dismiss…” (Luke 2:29-32). Simeon had long awaited the promised Messiah and now, after seeing the baby Jesus in the Temple, was ready to die in peace for God had proven faithful to His prophetic Word. In the same way we are now prepared to depart in the peace of God having seen Jesus proclaimed and received in the Supper as the one promised of old.
As we move toward the end of the liturgy we see a split focus, looking back over the service and forward to the rest of our week. The post communion-collect (included since the 4th century AD) begins with thanksgiving for the gifts received in God’s Divine Service and concludes with a prayer for God to lead us into our daily life refreshed by His gift of forgiveness.
In Numbers 6:22-27, God commanded Moses to commit this blessing to the use of Aaron and his sons as they carried out their priestly duties. This was to be the blessing pronounced over all the Israelites. A benediction (“blessing”) has long been part of the Divine Service, but the specific use of the Aaronic blessing is distinctively Lutheran. The Christian Church, as the New Israel, is sent forth with the same promise of God’s gracious presence in their lives.