Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Divine Service 01 Confession and Absolution

As I promised, I'm going to talk a little bit about the construction of historic Lutheran worship services.  In this world where man seems to be the center of all, the measure of all things, it is comforting to know that Christians can gather as they have for centuries to worship in a distinctively Christ-centered way.  Rather than seeing the worship service as our opportunity to serve God, we can see the worship service as the time when God brings his gifts to his people, providing for their needs.

What is our greatest need?  Our greatest need is forgiveness of sin.  That's what matters in eternity.  And in the divine service, the first thing that happens is striking.  The pastor and congregation proclaim Scripture together, often from 1 John 1.8-9.  We are confronted with the fact that we have sin in our lives and that our Lord forgives confessed sin.  We confess our sin and the pastor proclaims God's forgiveness.  This brings the first element of the divine service, confession and absolution, to a close.

Observe the "shape" of this element of our worship.  God speaks to us through His Scripture.  This comes from above.  Then we speak back to God, confessing our sins.  God speaks to us through his called servant, the pastor, forgiving what we are confessing.  Our response is to say "Amen."  This shape, then, has formed: \ / \ / - rather like the letter "W" for "worship."  This is unlike much of what happens in Western Christianity, where people gather and start by proclaiming God's attributes, then hear from Scripture, express their delight in God, and look for him to change their lives.  That shape is like this: / \ / \ - rather like the letter "M" for "me."

Historic Christian worship begins with God speaking forgiveness to his people.  It's forgiveness that we need so we can hear from God and receive the gifts he provides.

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