What do you call the members of the ELCA gathered each week around word and sacrament? For many of us, we instinctively say it is “service.” But what does that mean? Service to whom? By whom?
Worship that has, at its center, word and sacrament is about God’s action. The shape of a “service” of Holy Communion in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” describes God’s action throughout worship (pp. 92, 93):
“The Holy Spirit calls us together as the people of God. God speaks to us in scripture reading, preaching and song. God feeds us with the presence of Jesus Christ. God blesses us and sends us in mission to the world.”
In Jesus Christ, God serves the whole world with the grace of the gospel. In the presence of God in worship, we participate in God’s service by experiencing that grace. In turn, God’s grace works through our lives as we serve others.
Worship is a place of intersection — God’s service of grace to the world and our service in the world by grace. Worship is not an escape from the world, but a place wherein the world connects to, and is shaped by, God’s grace.
In worship, we both receive and respond. We both experience and proclaim God’s grace through worship’s proclamation, praise, prayer, thanksgiving and participation in the sacraments.
How does our worship practice reflect and support service, our participation in God’s grace?
The gathering of the people of God for worship is initiated by God and begins outside the walls of the church building. The procession into the church for worship may begin in the community.
Greeters may be posted outside the church on the sidewalk or other appropriate community location. Church bells may be rung as an invitation to and announcement of the community gathered for worship.
God entrusts congregations to follow through with the invitation to worship by welcoming the stranger, embodying graceful hospitality and acknowledging the presence of Christ in other people.
Gathering music may represent various locations around the world where other Christian assemblies are gathering to point to God’s invitation beyond one congregation or community.
Hospitality ministries are shaped with the understanding that visitors are brought to the assembly by God and therefore also fully participate and serve in the assembly at worship.
As part of the gathering, or later in the service of worship, the community may give thanks for the gift of baptism or affirm the promises of baptism. In both instances, the grace of God invites us to be reminded of the covenant of baptism that calls us to participate in Christian community, hear the word and share in the meal in worship, proclaim God’s grace in word and deed, serve all people according to the example of Jesus, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
The proclamation of the word of God in worship reaches beyond the immediate assembly gathered in one time and place.
In Scripture reading, preaching, song and prayer, grace is alive, bringing life to places of despair — hope in the face of suffering.
Preaching addresses the needs of the individual, the community and the world. With the confidence of the gift of faith, prayers of intercession boldly call upon God to serve the disparate needs of the world, the community and the individual.
Preaching and prayers are best locally crafted so that this intersection between grace and the world is specific to current needs, identifiable to the community and in the authentic voice of the community.
As the assembly is fed with the presence of Jesus Christ, we are led into the mission of Christ. The assembly offers gifts — given first by God to us — for the sake of the mission of the church, including money, collections to be given to those in need, and our gifts and abilities that are used in service.
Members of the assembly may be given a symbolic reminder at the time of the offering to share the grace of God in daily life through nonmonetary gifts of compassion, companionship and service to others.
The prayer after Holy Communion intentionally makes a connection between the meal we share in Jesus Christ and the mission to which we are sent from this same meal. Intersections between the congregation and the world that shares in the grace of this meal may also be made through cross-cultural music selections, particularly extolling the musical gifts of communities in great need in the present time.
Congregations may further emphasize this connection by sending the remains of the meal out of the worship space with people who will take the meal to those who were not able to be present with the community.
The time of sending makes connections between the worship service and service throughout the daily lives of those who are gathered.
God sends the worshiping assembly out into the world with promise and a command to serve. The blessing is assurance of God’s ongoing presence in daily life beyond the time of worship.
The dismissal to “Go in peace” reveals to the assembly that God’s peace travels with them into the world. The charges to “Serve the Lord,” “Remember the poor” or “Share the good news” give direction for our participation in the mission of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.
Additions to the time of sending may include announcements that invite the assembly into particular ministry activities. Collections of gifts, or groups of people being sent out in service from the community, may be blessed and prayed for using Blessing and Sending for Mission in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship Occasional Services for the Assembly,” p. 159.
Similarly, the daily vocations of the assembly may be affirmed and blessed by using Affirmation of Christian Vocation on p. 84 of the assembly edition of “Evangelical Lutheran Worship.”
The procession at the end of the service may include the gifts gathered for mission. If a processional cross is used, the procession may extend outside of the worship space and the church building and into the community.
This extension of the procession into the community surrounding the congregation may include specific prayers and blessings appropriate to the life and needs of the larger community.