Opening Rites

The Confession of Sins is placed outside the formal worship. It is a way to prepare our hearts and minds for worship. So at the very beginning of our time together, the faithful recall their sins and place their trust in God's abiding mercy.

We begin with a Gathering Song. The pastor and other assisting ministers enter in procession and pause to reverence the altar before taking their places. The altar is a symbol of Christ at the heart of the assembly and so deserves this special reverence.

The pastor extends a greeting to the gathered people in words taken from Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:28).

The penitential and preparatory actions of God’s people continue with the Kyrie. Kyrie Eleison, a Greek phrase meaning "Lord, have mercy," is repeated twice along with Christie Eleison, or “Christ, have mercy.” This litany recalls God's merciful actions throughout history.

Often the Gloria, or Hymn of Praise follows the Kyrie. The Gloria begins by echoing the proclamation of the angels at the birth of Christ: "Glory to God in the highest!" In this ancient hymn, the gathered assembly joins the heavenly choirs in offering praise and adoration to the Father and Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

You may have noticed that we do not always sing both the Kyrie and the Hymn of Praise. There is a pattern however. During penitential seasons like Advent and Lent, the Kyrie is sung alone. On Sundays where the liturgical color is green, those Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost known as “Ordinary Time,” only the Hymn of Praise is sung. On festival Sundays and festival seasons like Easter and Christmas, both are sung.

The Opening Rites conclude with an opening prayer, called the Collect. The pastor invites the gathered assembly to pray and, after a brief silence, proclaims the Prayer of the Day in union with the whole assembly. The Collect gathers the prayers of all into one, reiterates the theme for the day, and disposes all to hear the Word of God in the context of the celebration.

Hearing the Word

On a typical Sunday, we will hear three lessons from the canonical scriptures, one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels.  In addition, we usually respond to the Old Testament lesson with a recitation from Psalms and we hear the Word preached.

The lessons that are chosen are not random, but are part of a three-year cycle of readings called the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). The RCL was published in 1992 by the Consultation on Common Texts, a forum for consultation on worship renewal among many Christian churches in the US and Canada.  Today, Lutherans, Episcopals, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even the Mennonite Church use these common readings each Sunday. 

The ELCA recommends the use of the RCL in its policy statement, The Use of the Means of Grace:

"The use of ELCA-approved lectionaries serves the unity of the Church, the hearing of the breadth of the Scriptures, and the evangelical meaning of the church year."

The RCL is built around the seasons of the Church Year, and includes four lections for each Sunday, as well as additional readings for major feast days. During most of the year, the lections are: a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles, and a Gospel reading. During the season of Easter, the Old Testament lesson is usually replaced with one from the Acts of the Apostles, following an ancient church practice. 

The seasons of the Church Year reflect the life of Christ. Consequently, the Gospel lessons for each Sunday provide the focus for that day. The Gospel readings for each year come from one of the synoptic Gospels according to the following pattern:

  • Year A - Matthew
  • Year B - Mark
  • Year C - Luke
  • Readings from the Gospel of John can be found throughout the RCL.

The other lessons for a given day generally have a thematic relationship to the gospel reading for that day, although this is not always the case.  The Old Testament lesson is most likely to have a connection with the Gospel, giving a parallel story or providing background for the Gospel lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures. 

The Epistle Lesson follows the pattern of Lectio Continua, or continuous reading.  In each of the three years, various New Testament books are chosen to be read.  Each week a different section is read in a more-or-less continuous fashion so that over the course of several weeks or months, an entire book will be read aloud in church.  Because of the continuous nature of these readings, they do not always fit thematically with the other readings on a given Sunday.

The Psalm is not a fourth reading, per se.  It is instead a response to the first reading. With it we are given a text from the Word of God to sing or speak together, full of the themes that have been presented in the first reading.  It prepares us to hear the further readings.

Finally, the sermon is preached. The pattern for worship says simply: “Preaching brings God’s word of law and gospel into our time and place to awaken and nourish faith.” The Use of the Means of Grace elaborates: 

"The preaching of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ is rooted in the readings of the Scriptures in the assemblies for worship. . . . Preaching is the living and contemporary voice of one who interprets in all the Scriptures the things concerning Jesus Christ [Luke 24:27]. In fidelity to the readings appointed for the day, the preacher proclaims our need of God’s grace and freely offers that grace, equipping the community for mission and service in daily life.”

What we believe - the Creeds

The word 'Creed' is derived from the Latin word credo, meaning 'I believe'. The Creeds therefore, are summaries of belief. Particularly in the first few hundred years after the death of Christ, the church faced the problem of differing views over such subjects as whether he was truly God and also whether he had both a human or divine nature. Out of these disputes the church formulated statements of belief, which to this day form an important part of how Christians express their faith.

The Apostles’ Creed is probably the earliest of the main creeds used in Christianity today. The name derives from the legend that the twelve apostles of Christ contributed to it, though the earliest form dates from c. 215 A.D.. The creed gives a clear summary of Christian belief and formed the basis for later creeds. It was probably written to combat the teachings of Marcion, a second century Roman theologian, who drew a distinction between the Old Testament God, Yahweh, and the God that Jesus professes. The Apostles’ Creed makes clear that the God of Creation, Jesus Himself and, by extension, Jesus’ Heavenly Father, are one God.

The Nicene Creed is the most common creed used in Christianity. Later revised at the council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., the creed was originally formulated in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea. At the time the church was struggling with the Arian heresy, which denied that Christ was truly God, but rather that he was a created being. The creed was formulated to repudiate Arianism and clearly states that Christ is eternal and part of the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A third primary creed is the Athanasian Creed. While attributed to Athanasius, a fourth century theologian, it was likely composed much later, first showing up in the annals of history in 633 A.D.. Although he did not write it, Athanasius’ theology clearly influenced the creed’s formulation. The Athanasian Creed makes clear that God is a triune God, and that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are considered uncreated, co-eternal and of the same substance. It also clarifies that Jesus was at the same time fully God and fully human.

Like the Kyrie and Hymn of Praise that we discussed earlier, the usage of the creeds follows a distinctive pattern. The Apostle’s Creed, the creed most closely associated with baptism, is usually chosen for Lent, as the season of baptismal renewal and preparation, and for all Sundays in the Time after Epiphany and the Time after Pentecost, the so-called “Ordinary Time.” The Nicene Creed is usually chosen for festival days and during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Easter. Because of its length and unwieldy nature, the Athanasian Creed is rarely used in worship. At most, it is professed on Trinity Sunday when the triune nature of God is emphasized.

prayers of the people and the lord's prayer

Having been nourished by the Word of God, we can now respond by praying for the needs of the world, the church, the congregation, and particular people. We do not leave the world outside the door of the church. God is involved in the world: he created it; he cares for and loves it; he has a future for it. The Prayers of the People lift all of these concerns.

The Prayers of the People have a scope that is hourglass shaped. They begin with the widest view, the creation of the universe. They narrow through the world, the community, the church and finally to individuals. They then widen again to include the dearly departed, the Communion of Saints and all concerns of God’s people.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, our cranberry hymnal and worship book, describes these areas of focus for the Prayers of the People:

  • For the whole world;
  • for the church universal, its ministry, and the mission of the gospel;
  • for the well-being of creation;
  • for peace and justice in the world, the nations and those in authority, the community;
  • for the poor, oppressed, sick, bereaved, lonely;
  • for all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit;
  • for the congregation, for local and specific concerns;
  • for the faithful departed and all those who have gone before;
  • for other concerns of those assembled.

Care is given when these prayers are written to assure that they are not mini-sermons in and of themselves, that they invite others into prayer, that they are not announcements in disguise, and that they are corporate, so that all may join the prayers without reservation. 

Although it does not follow immediately in the flow of the service, this chapter on prayer lends itself to saying a few words about the Lord’s Prayer. It is found in two places in the New Testament, Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. In both cases, this prayer is Jesus’ response to the disciples, who asked him how they should pray.

While there are many English translations, Lutherans are probably most familiar with these three:

  • The translation in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (Our Father, which art in heaven…)
  • The slightly modernized form used in the 1928 version of the Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (Our Father who art in heaven…)
  • The 1988 translation of the ecumenical English Language Liturgical Consultation (Our Father in Heaven…)

Everyone has their favorite, usually based on what they grew up with, and might claim one or the other as the “true version” of the Lord’s Prayer. But we must remember that these English translation are simply modern (for the time they were created) translations of ancient Greek. Matthew and Luke copied their versions from a lost manuscript called “Q,” short for the German word “Quelle” which means “source,” a book which they seemingly shared but has been lost to the ravages of time. Jesus, no doubt, prayed the Lord's Prayer originally in his native Aramaic, so that what Matthew and Luke received was already a translation! The “right” translation, then, is simply the one that speaks most directly to your heart.

The doxology that ends the Lord’s Prayer (For thine is the kingdom…) is a later addition, probably from early church use. It appears in a few, relatively less ancient manuscript copies of Matthew. It is generally not included in the Bible.

Regardless of origin, we use the Lord’s Prayer at the close of the Great Thanksgiving in the communion liturgy, where it becomes, in essence, the table-prayer of the congregation before the Eucharistic meal.

The Meal

In the exchange of peace, we express our faith in a physical way. We turn toward one another, shaking hands or embracing, demonstrating our unity and mutual acceptance. Sharing the Peace of the Lord makes it unmistakably clear that worship is more than a spiritual experience. It is reminiscent of Matthew 5:23-24 where we are instructed to reconcile ourselves with our brothers and sisters before coming to the altar. We are not alone in the Christian community; we are to be one with our brothers and sisters. The sharing of the peace is a moving, powerful expression of our unity with Christ and with each other. As the peace of Christ brings fellowship and reconciliation, the life of the Spirit is renewed among us in Christian community.

Our response of faith also takes concrete shape in the Offering. Here again, the service of worship and the service of the world merge into one. With our gifts we acknowledge that the world is God’s and not ours, and we show a commitment to reconciliation and justice. It is significant, too, that the gifts of bread and wine are presented during this time. This simple gesture acknowledges God as the Giver and looks forward in joyful anticipation to our receiving the great gift of his Son in bread broken and cup shared.

The note of joyful anticipation mounts with the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving. We join in the dialog that Christians have used for centuries in their gathering around the table of the Lord. Then we join the whole Communion of Saints in acclaiming and greeting the Holy One who is among us to give himself once more in bread and wine. In the “Holy, holy, holy,” Isaiah’s vision of God’s majesty in the temple (Isaiah 6:1-5) is joined with the song of praise sung at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes ...,” Matthew 21:9).

As the Great Thanksgiving continues, God’s wonderful works and mighty acts are proclaimed. But it is especially in Jesus that all of God’s creating and saving activity comes to completion. Then we hear of that Last Supper and the gracious invitation to receive the very life of the one who was offered upon the cross for all people. We have come to the heart of our faith and thus we joyfully acclaim: “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!” We not only recall what has happened in Christ, but look forward in hope to his coming again. Finally we appeal to God for the life-giving power of his Spirit.

To conclude our thanksgiving we pray, “Our Father,” just as Jesus taught us. We go to the Lord’s table, confident of his mercy and love. The very Christ who died and rose victorious gives himself to us. As such, we receive his gift with palms outstretched, truly receiving the gift of his body rather than snatching it from the hands of the server.

This Gift from Christ is both a personal and a corporate experience. In the words “given for you” and “shed for you” the gospel is proclaimed to each individual. And yet we gather at the Lord’s table not as individuals but as fellow members of God’s family. We commune as fellow members of the body of Christ—the church—the Communion of Saints.

After Communion, we give thanks to God for his great gift. But even as we rejoice over what God has done, we are also pointed toward our life in the world. The Post-communion song and the closing prayer form the bridge between our Lord’s life-giving gift and our mission as his loving people. Our worship is to be carried on in our daily lives. After a closing hymn which focuses us on the mission field ahead, we are sent forth with his blessing to serve him and his world.