Ever wonder why we Lutherans use the form of worship that we do?
In this series we examine the depth and meaning of the various elements of our worship service.
It has been said that wherever Christians build a humble chapel for the worship of the true God, the devil sets up beside it a grand temple to some false god. His purpose is ever to create ambiguity and confusion between the eternal God revealed in the Bible and the idols that are the work of human minds and hands.
Because of the devil’s attempts to sow confusion, it is necessary that when we gather for worship, we express clearly that we are there to worship the one true and living God.
This is what we do when we open our services with the trinitarian invocation, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” With these words we are saying to anyone who is present, “Let there be no question about the God we worship here. He is the God Who has made Himself known in the Bible: our Maker, Redeemer, and Comforter.”
This opening statement in our services also achieves essential purposes for the believers who are gathered for worship.
It reminds us of our Baptism. We recognize the trinitarian invocation as the words that Jesus spoke when He commanded His disciples to go and make disciples of all the nations. They were to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19-20) When we hear these words spoken at the beginning of a service, we are hearing again the words that were spoken when we were baptized. These are mighty words that first came from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are what make Baptism “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), by which we died with Christ and were raised to life with Him (Romans 6:2-3).
This remembrance of our Baptism at the beginning of a service is a reminder that we were saved by God’s grace in Christ alone. The blessings of forgiveness and eternal life were poured out on us by the Holy Spirit as a gift. When we gather for worship, we do not approach God on the basis of our works. It is only through the merits of Christ that we can come before Him and bring to Him our offerings of praise and prayer. It is by His grace that He speaks to us in His Word.
With the invocation, we call upon God to bless us with His gracious presence at the service. We know that we are always in God’s presence, but in a formal worship service we are especially conscious of His presence. We ask Him to receive our praises in liturgy and hymns. We ask Him to hear and answer the prayers we bring to Him, trusting in the promise of Christ that whatever we ask in His name will be given to us (John 16:23). We ask for the blessing of the Holy Spirit as the Word is read in the Scripture lessons and preached in the sermon. We acknowledge that we need the Spirit to open the Word to us so that we understand it, believe it, and respond to it.
The words of the invocation are indeed precious words. Let us rejoice to hear them. And they need not be reserved only for public worship services. Luther fittingly used them to begin his morning and evening prayers. It is good for us to make use of these words of Christ at the beginning and at the close of each day. In this way we will be reminded that we live continuously in God’s presence, that we stand always in His grace, and that we live under His constant protection.