Scripture Underlying the Liturgy

 

Scripture Underlying the Liturgy

Rev. Mark E. Ryman

 

Introduction

An old friend of another denominational stripe, once jabbed, “How can you think anyone is ever going to come to Christ when your worship service is just ritual?”

She is correct in saying that Lutherans follow a ritual, a particular order of words and actions in our service of worship.  We, along with the rest of the orthodox church, call it the liturgy.  Two Greek words, litos and ergos, meaning “public” and “service,” become the Greek compound word λειτουργ?α (leitourgia), from which we get our English word “liturgy.”  The liturgy is the public work or service of God’s people.

To be sure, my old friend is correct.  The liturgy is filled with ritual: an order of worship, including psalms, hymns, songs, prayers, thanksgiving, offerings, silence, sermon, and Scripture.  It is to the last item on my list to which I wish to call our attentions.  The liturgy of the church, that ritual of which my friend insists we can expect no one to come to the Lord, is filled with Scripture.  Indeed, the majority of the service is pure Scripture, the rest of the ritual being dictated by the Word.  I cannot make too fine a point on this matter, so let me say it plainly.  We should not expect people to come to God except through the Word.

We should not presume people could come to God except through the Word because the Holy Spirit draws people through his Word.  God always takes the initiative in drawing people to himself.  We cannot do it—nor can feelings, reason, bright lights, musical style, or anything else but the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.  So, we do well to employ Scripture in worship.  It is how the Spirit of God draws people to Christ, in whose name we discover God’s mercy and grace.

 

Confession and Absolution or Forgiveness

Confession begins with the singular name of the Triune God found in Matthew’s Gospel: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[1]  The opening prayer in the Brief Order of Confession begins with a statement that is not a quote from Scripture but, nonetheless, a doctrine found in Scripture.  The writer of Hebrews informs us: No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”[2]  We pray: “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…”  We go on to ask him to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of [his] Holy Spirit.”  The psalmist implores God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”[3] 

A more difficult part of this prayer follows: “that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Oh! you question, How can I, a mere human being, a sinner, perfectly love God?  Scripture comes to our aid again, this time from the Apostle John.  “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.   There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.   We love because he first loved us.”[4]  The perfect love with which we love God is a love given to us by Christ Jesus; it is not a feeling of devotion that we muster up within ourselves.  If we abide in him, if our lives are based in him through faith, then it is his perfect love working within us. 

Here, early in the liturgy, we find a reminder for the rest of our worship, indeed, for the whole of life.  If we think it is about us, we are missing the mark.  If we imagine it is something that we do, even if that something is worship, then we are mistaken.  Paul reminds us, “It is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[5]  As the prayer closes, it reminds us that all of this is accomplished “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  To this the people respond with the Hebrew word, ?????, amen, meaning, “so be it” or “truly” (“verily” in the KJV).  This word in the Christian liturgy is found in Scripture so many times, one gives up counting.

Following our “amen,” the pastor reminds us, again with words straight from the Apostle John, that, “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.”[6]  Then, as we just admitted with Scripture, we say plainly that “we are in bondage to sin,” that we cannot liberate ourselves from this natural slavery.  Making matters more clear, we admit that we have sinned against God in every conceivable way, even in the most basic ways.  We have neither loved God nor our neighbors, an allusion to the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[7]  As Luther testifies for us all, we have not even done the first part of that great commandment.  We have not love God with our whole heart, let alone our souls and minds.

Now to the nitty-gritty of our confessional prayer: “for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ.”  Let us learn this doctrine so that it may direct all else we think and say and do.  We confess in the liturgy that we are not forgiven for the sake of, or because of, the things we do—in other words for our sakes.  God is merciful to us because of his Son, not because of the rest of his children.  His mercy includes forgiveness and spiritual renewal, but also leading us in his will, so that whether we know his will or not, we are led into it.  All of this is done, not because he is faithful even when we are not.[8]  In all of this, it is God who gets the glory, as we confess in prayer, “to the glory of your holy name.”  “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”[9]  We are forgiven, we confess with Scripture, because of Christ—we say, “for his sake”—not because of the things we think, say, or do.

The absolution, from a Latin word meaning “acquittal,” is a concise statement of what happens next, and why.  Because we are sinners, God sent his Son to die for us and forgives the sins of those believe in him.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[10]  “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”[11] and will therefore, “be merciful toward [our] iniquities, and [] will remember [our] sins no more.”[12]  This absolution or statement of forgiveness is given by the ordained minister in the service of worship.  Quoting from The Augsburg Confession, article XIV, “Our churches teach that nobody should preach publicly in the church or administer the sacraments unless he is regularly called.”[13]

However, Luther, was wont to add more teeth to his writings than did Phillip Melancthon, the author of the much of The Book of Concord, including The Augsburg Confession, from which you just heard.  Luther stayed out of most of the confessional writings because he was busy with so much else.  Toward the end of his life, the elector asked Luther to write down what Luther, so if you will, Lutherans, believe, so that the record woud be clear.  Luther insists there is a priesthood of all believers and that, being priests of God,[14] all Christians may administer Holy Communion or preach a sermon or give the absolution.

As far as that goes, we are all consecrated priests through baptism, as St. Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9. “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly realm.” The Apocalypse says, “Thou hast made us to be priests and kings by thy blood” (Rev 5:9–10). The consecration by pope or bishop would never make a priest, and if we had no higher consecration than that which pope or bishop gives, no one could say mass or preach a sermon or give absolution.

Therefore, when a bishop consecrates it is nothing else than that in the place and stead of the whole community, all of whom have like power, he takes a person and charges him to exercise this power on behalf of the others. It is like ten brothers, all king’s sons and equal heirs, choosing one of themselves to rule the inheritance in the interests of all. In one sense they are all kings and of equal power, and yet one of them is charged with the responsibility of ruling. To put it still more clearly: suppose a group of earnest Christian laymen were taken prisoner and set down in a desert without an episcopally ordained priest among them. And suppose they were to come to a common mind there and then in the desert and elect one of their number, whether he were married or not, and charge him to baptize, say mass, pronounce absolution, and preach the gospel. Such a man would be as truly a priest as though he had been ordained by all the bishops and popes in the world. That is why in cases of necessity anyone can baptize and give absolution. This would be impossible if we were not all priests.[15]
 

The heading of Article XIV of The Augsburg Confession may say it best: “Concerning Ecclesiastical Order.”  Though any Christian, being a priest before God, may do so, for the sake of good order in the church, those who are ordained hear confession, absolve, preach, and administer the Sacraments. 

The Absolution is so solemn and biblical that it is concluded in the name of the Triune God, followed by a direct quotation from Paul to the church in Corinth: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[16]

Now, a brief word on hymn singing…  The singing of hymns was something that Luther gave us.  Prior to the Reformation, the laity did little if any singing in the service of worship.  Luther loved to sing, and wrote roughly 40 hymns for the whole church to sing, many of which we still sing today.  But we should not sing hymns in worship simply because Luther said to do so.  Paul teaches us to address one another “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”[17]  This was Jesus’ practice too.  After establishing the Lord’s Supper, Matthew tells us that he and his disciples sang a hymn, and went out to the Mount of Olives.[18]

Of course, The Psalms are the old hymnal of Jesus and the Jewish people.  God’s people are meant to be a singing people.  We should sing hymns, but also other songs and spiritual songs, which may be found in our liturgy and elsewhere.

 

Invocation or Call to Worship

The Psalmist says, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”[19]  Calling people to worship is biblical, if not downright practical and necessary.  It is why we ring the church bells.  A logical extension of calling and ringing in today’s world would be to give people a ring on the phone, text them, or check in on Facebook that we are at church.   The word invocation, as our modern rendering “call to worship” indicates, comes from two Latin words: in and vocare, simply translated as “to call upon.”  The Call to Worship, or Invocation, or as we say these days, “Gathering” is that time when God’s people are summoned to the public service of the church.

During this time, we hear the Apostolic Greeting, reminding us in whose name we are being called to worship. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”[20] is a direct quote from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church.  

 

The Kyrie

Kyrie, a Greek word meaning “Lord,” combined with eleison, meaning “have mercy,” gives us our responses, with a twist in the final of the three responses which underscores what the word Kyrie means.  The congregational responses in this litany, or list of prayers, are based on scriptures like Psalm 123:3, Matthew 17:15, and Matthew 20:31.  That we are to pray, and pray for many things, permeates the entire Bible.  “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”[21]  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life…”[22]  We are even to pray for our enemies.[23]

But to whom are we to pray?  We must pray to God, of course.  We pray to the Lord, who mercifully hears our petitions.  As the Kyrie is divided into three sections with responses of “have mercy,” we are reminded that God is the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The first two “have mercies” are directed to “the Lord” or Kyrie.  The last “have mercy” is addressed specifically to Christ our Lord. God, and Savior.[24]

 

The Hymn of Praise

In the Hymn of Praise we are taught that Holy Communion is a victory meal, commemorating Christus Victor.  It is Christ alone who is victorious.  We may see this depicted in a heavenly scene from John’s Apocalypse, the last book of the New Testament, The Revelation.  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”[25]  The Hymn of Praise continues with more Scripture: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”[26]  We sing praise to God because all of creation is summoned to do so, as we see in the 148th Psalm.  This victorious Lamb, Messiah, Lord, and God to whom we sing praise is the very one whom we bid be with one another when we say, “The Lord be with you.”[27]

 

The Word

Jesus, in Luke 4:16-21, is seen reading in the synagogue from the Isaiah scroll.  In Acts 13:14-15, we notice a tradition among the Jews of reading from the Law and the Prophets.  The public reading of Scripture in the service of worship is so important that Paul urges the practice on Timothy, right along with preaching.  “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”[28] 

It is my opinion that when people preach from a verse or two, they are almost bound to be preaching their own ideas, or at least preaching about favorite, if not worn-out, topics.  When the whole of Scripture is read, God is afforded the honor of speaking to us.  When the preacher listens to all of the lessons, how the four texts are talking to one another, the people have the greatest opportunity to hear the whole counsel of God preached.[29]

We also sing Scripture in the Gospel Acclamation, that brief song of praise before the Reading of the Holy Gospel.  After Jesus questions the disciples’ loyalty to him, whether they would rather leave him along with many other lesser disciples who had deserted him, Peter responds for the rest of the disciples: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”[30]

 

Sermons

Let us begin with the children’s sermon by citing one of the more arresting incidents in the Gospels.  “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray.   The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”[31]  When we set aside time in worship for the little ones, we are merely following the example of our Lord.

As to preaching to the adults, the examples of Jesus, the apostles, and others are abundant in the Bible.  Peter preached a sermon on Pentecost Sunday.[32]  As noted earlier, along with the reading of Scripture, Paul urged Timothy to exhort, or preach.[33]  Preaching was and is, quite simply, the way that God uses in the church to lift up the Son so that people are drawn to him.  “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”[34]  By the time of the Lutheran Reformation, preaching had faded from any prominence in the liturgy.  Luther changed that, restoring preaching to a central place in the public work of God’s people to this day.

 

Creeds

There is not enough time available in a 45-minute presentation to cite all of the Scripture alluded to in the three ecumenical creeds.  Let it suffice then to say that the Bible includes many belief statements, or creeds.  Here are a few.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”)  16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.[35]

…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[36]

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.[37]

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.  11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.[38]

 

The Peace

The purpose of The Peace being added to the Lutheran liturgy is because of a renewed emphasis on celebrating Holy Communion as means of God’s grace each Lord’s Day.  In other words, The Peace is not a mere greeting. 

I once attended a Methodist revival where, being a visiting pastor, I was to sit in the chancel with other pastors each evening and participate in some part or parts of the service.  Every night, the pastor urged us to, at least, greet one another with a holy hug, if we were not able to actually do so with Paul’s biblical “holy kiss.”[39]  At this point in each revival service, I would look out on the congregation and see that the only person sitting on the front pew was a Methodist sister, 96 if she was a day, licking her lips and eyeballing me. 

The Peace is not just a holy kiss or a holy hug or handshake.  It is the sincere attempt to extend the peace of Christ to the brethren when our own peace toward them may not be present. 

God does not receive our gifts or worship when we are ill with family.[40]  Think back on Cain if you need some indication of what a serious matter this is to God.  If you need more, think again on the second half of the greatest commandment.  Offering the peace of Christ to the family of God is serious and humble business.

 

Holy Communion

In The Great Thanksgiving we are encouraged, in words similar to those of the prophet Jeremiah, to lift up our hearts[41] and to give thanks, as the psalmist and others exhort.[42]  After the prayer that is Preface to the threefold acclamation of the Holy Trinity, we sing from the Apocalypse of John: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”[43]  This song alludes to Isaiah’s similar lyrics: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”[44]  It concludes with a strain from Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem.  “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”[45]

During the distribution of the holy meal, we are reminded of what lies in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine.  The Agnus Dei uses words from the Gospel of John, and again, we sing it three times to be subtly reminded that we are partaking of the divine Christ.  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[46] 

The words of institution and those used during distribution of bread and wine are taken from the synoptic Gospels and the first letter to the Corinthians.[47] 

 

Benediction and Sending

Benedictions such as the Aaronic blessing[48] are scattered throughout Scripture.  These good sayings or well-wishes of the Bible are used with the Sending at the end of the liturgy, to remind us that God is with us as we go into the world to make disciples.

Not only does the liturgy, a ritual order of worship, lift up Christ so that the service itself may be used by the Holy Spirit to draw people to Christ, it empowers and sends us to do the same in day-to-day life.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 28:19.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 4:13.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 51:10–11.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 4:16–19.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:13.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 1:8–9.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 22:37–39.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Ti 2:13.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 3:21.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 3:16.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 5:8.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 8:12.

[13] Theodore G. Tappert, The Augsburg Confession: Translated from the Latin (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 36.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:9.

[15] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 44: The Christian in Society I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 44 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 127–128.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 13:14.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 5:19.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 26:30.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 95:6.

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 13:14.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:18.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Ti 2:1–2.

[23] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 5:44.

[24] Titus 2:13

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 5:12.

[26] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 5:13.

[27] Exodus 10:10; Ruth 2:4; 1 Samuel 17:37; 20:13; 1 Chronicles 22:11, 16; 2 Thessalonians 3:16

[28] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Ti 4:13.

[29] Acts 20:27

[30] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 6:68.

[31] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 19:13–14.

[32] Acts 2:14-36

[33] 1 Tim 4:13

[34] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 5:42.

[35] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 1:1–18.

[36] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:6–11.

[37] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:13–20.

[38] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 2:9–14.

[39] Romans 16:16

[40] Matthew 5:23-24

[41] Lamentations 3:41

[42] Psalm 100

[43] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 4:8.

[44] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 6:3.

[45] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 21:9.

[46] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 1:29.

[47] Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26

[48] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Nu 6:24–26.