We’re glad God is calling you to gather with us for the Divine Service. It’s a wonderful thing to be among those to whom God gathers to deliver His gifts. That’s what we believe is at the center of every Sunday morning: God is giving us His gifts.
If this is your first time in a liturgical service (heck, even if this is the thousandth time), it will probably feel weird. We’re not going to trip over ourselves apologizing for how different this hour will be from the rest of your week. It’s supposed to be like that. Think of your first sip of a fine single malt scotch (yes, it’s supposed to hurt) or your first time getting adjusted at the chiropractor (yes, it’s supposed to make that sound). There’s something very different that happens here. The scotch never stops burning, but you learn to relish the burn. The liturgy is never any less weird; you just learn to appreciate it.
To follow along in the service, you’ll need a hymnal and a bulletin. All the page numbers are in the right column of the bulletin. Some things are only printed in the bulletin. Included in the welcome packet is a page that will help you understand a bit about the service. You can try to follow along with that, or you can wait to read it until you get home. Or, don’t get bogged down with papers. Just sit back and listen. Nearly every word spoken or sung today is straight from the Bible. And faith comes by hearing.
We observe an ancient custom in the service called closed communion. Every church that believes Jesus gives His real body and blood in the Lord’s Supper practices some variation of closed communion. In short, only those who believe the same as we do are welcome to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. It’s not a judgment about whether you’re a Christian or not. It’s a matter of intimacy. Like visitors to your house, they can enjoy the blessings of friendship and fellowship, but there are just some places that are for family only. Communion is an intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus and with one another. The goal is not to exclude you but to entice you to want to know more, to be drawn in to the family.
We are glad to recognize the commonalities that exist between us as fellow Christians, though. All baptized Christians are welcome to come to the rail during Communion for a blessing and a reminder of what God has done for you in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Sure, closed communion irritates some people. And some guys get mad at girls who don’t kiss on first dates. But we’ve all been there. Everyone communing here has been through a time of instruction and examination before deciding that they agree with our confession of the Christian faith. It only feels awkward to you. No one is looking at you weird. They’ve all been there.
If you can bear with how strange and unfamiliar all this seems, you’ll discover a beauty and a complexity to the liturgy that will lure you in. God is here. And He’s brought gifts. The liturgy is the great equalizer. It’s not bound to ages or cultures (notice there’s no children’s church, geezer church, hipster church, or suburbanite people of European descent church). It’s timeless. It reaches back to the first century, and before, back all the way to the worship of God’s people in the temple thousands of years ago. It reaches all the way forward to a new age, the era that begins when Jesus returns, the era of saints and angels singing in harmony around the throne, tending the eternal garden in the New Jerusalem. It transcends race or culture; the biggest, fastest growing liturgical Lutheran churches are in Africa, not Suburbia. It’s the culture of the Lord’s church.
We’re tremendously glad you’re here, but you’re not the reason we’re here. Just as we’re not the reason you are here either. Our fellowship with one another is secondary. Primary is that God is here to give gifts, gifts of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, faith, mercy, and more.
I’d love to meet with you personally and chat more about how strange and wonderful it is to be a Lutheran Christian. If you’d like to do that tomorrow morning over a cup of French press coffee or tomorrow evening over pint of American craft beer, I’m game.
In Christ’s Service and yours,