Ever wonder why we Lutherans use the form of worship we do? In this series we examine the depth and meaning of the various elements of our Lutheran worship service.
The Proper Perface for the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper often used in our churches (The Lutheran Hymnal, page 24-31) begins with words that have been spoken by Christians in worship since the third century: “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them up unto the Lord.” “Let us give thanks unto the Lord, our God.” “It is meet and right so to do.” “It is truly meet, right, and salutary [fitting, proper, and beneficial] that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.” This section is known as the Common Preface and in this way, thanksgiving is made a dominant theme of our Lord’s Supper celebrations. We receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and we give thanks for Christ’s salvation. The Common Preface mirrors Jesus’ own “preface” to the first Lord’s Supper when He “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them.” (Luke 22:19 NIV)
With thanksgiving on our minds then, the service liturgy takes us directly to the reason for our thanksgiving. It does this through what are known as the Proper Prefaces. (The Lutheran Hymnal, page 25) The Proper Prefaces are extensions of the Common Preface that change according to the seasons of the church year. Each proper preface highlights a particular reason for giving thanks to the Lord, an aspect of Jesus’ redemptive work for our special attention.
Several of these are striking in their poetry and in their unique imagery. Consider the one for the season of Lent: “Who on the tree of the Cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, thence Life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame, might likewise by a tree be overcome.” There is a bit of English there to process, but the picture is that of death coming into the world first through a tree in Eden (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) but later life coming through another “tree” (the tree of the Cross). Further, our enemy the devil, who once overcame Adam and Eve by means of that tree in the garden, has now himself been overcome by another “tree” on Calvary. It’s an unforgettable line of Lenten poetry and it is this preface which helped inspire the hymn The Tree of Life. (Lutheran Service Book, 561)
The preface for Easter leads us to the Passover Lamb Who was sacrificed for us: “But chiefly are we bound to praise Thee for the glorious resurrection of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord; for He is the very Paschal Lamb which was offered for us and hath taken away the sins of the world; who by His death hath destroyed death and by His rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life.” Note again the dominant theme of thanksgiving (“chiefly are we bound to praise Thee”).
During the month of November, it was customary for us in our daily devotions as a family to end them with each of us naming something we were thankful for. This is what the Proper Preface does for us in the liturgy. As we approach the Lord’s Table, we are led to give thanks for the good news of Jesus and His salvation according to the days and seasons in which it is proclaimed to us throughout the year.
“(Christ) Who on the tree of the Cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, thence Life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame, might likewise by a tree be overcome.”