The Church Year and the Liturgy

Dr. Jon Eifert

Why use the same liturgy every Sunday? For one thing, the liturgy is a framework which summarizes the whole history of salvation—a story which we all need to hear!

By now we know the story of the Baby of Bethlehem who grew up to teach, heal, suffer, die, rise from the dead, ascend into heaven, and send His Holy Spirit to create faith and sustain the church. We have learned this story in worship and Bible classes and Sunday school and confirmation classes. We have also experienced the church year—a means of reviewing our complete spiritual history as it outlines what God, in Christ Jesus, has done for us.

Our liturgy saturates our worship with Scripture. It also provides a framework though which God dispenses His gifts and we respond to His great love. Yet there is another reason to celebrate the liturgy regularly. The order of Divine Service is itself a mini-church year—a “microcosm,” if you will. Open your hymnal and follow along as we examine the various seasons of the church year and find them reflected in the Divine Service. For our purposes, we will use Divine Service III, beginning on p. 184 of Lutheran Service Book, but any of the five LSB settings will work.

@ ADVENT
This first season of the year is a time of preparation as we anxiously await the arrival of the Savior. As more of the advent wreath candles are lit week by week, the anticipation grows. Likewise, in the confession and absolution (pp.184-185) we prepare ourselves to meet the Savior who is about to enter into our midst by means of Word and Sacrament.

@ CHRISTMAS
We gather with the shepherds at the manger to welcome the Bread of Life. The overwhelming nature of this greatest Gift is underscored by the announcement which was given to the shepherds by “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13) singing praises to God. We are privileged to join with the angels in welcoming the Savior by singing. “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (p.187).

@ EPIPHANY
During Advent, we anticipated the gift of the Savior. At Christmas, we received this gift. Now, in Epiphany, we open this gift and examine what the Savior came to do and teach. In Epiphany, we see that the gift of the Savior is for the whole world (as the Magi learned), that He came to take our place under the law (as He claimed at His baptism), and that the Father is well pleased with Him (see the baptism and Transfiguration accounts). We learn about the Savior through the Scripture readings and sermon, highlighted by the Gospel reading which recounts His exact words to His disciples. We also summarize all of His teachings as we recite the creed (pp. 190-192).

@ LENT
Lent is a penitential season in which we prepare ourselves to recall the suffering and death of our Savior. We are reminded that it was our sin that led Him to the cross, and we pray that He would forgive our sins and help us to lead more God-fearing lives. Psalm 51, one of the great penitential Psalms, is the text of the Offertory (pp.192-193). As truly penitent believers we ask that God would grant His Spirit to uphold us and renew us.

@ HOLY WEEK
Lent concludes with Holy Week, a special time when we focus on a number of separate events in the last week of our Lord’s earthly life. Specifically, we remember the following:

@ PALM SUNDAY
The crowd in Jerusalem greeted the coming King by shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 21:9). We join in their song of welcome in the Sanctus (p.195)

@ MAUNDY THURSDAY
It was on this night, in the upper room, that Jesus gave to His church the Sacrament of the Altar. This story is recounted as the pastor speaks the Words of Institution (p.197) which give us this gift of Jesus’ body and blood, too.

@ GOOD FRIDAY
It was on the cross that Christ earned the forgiveness of sins for the entire world. We are reminded of this as we sing to “Christ, the Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world” (p.198).

@ EASTER
The risen Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, and then to the gathered disciples in the upper room. What were His first words to the fully assembled group? “Peace be with you” (p.197).

@ PENTECOST
In this season, the focus is upon the church and the gifts that God gives to and through the church to help us fulfill the Great Commission. In the Benediction (p.202) we hear again the Lord’s promise to go with us as we leave His house and go into the world to proclaim the gospel. He blesses us, keeps us, and gives us His peace to share with everyone we meet.

So there we have it. In one brief hour or so we have the entire story of our salvation presented to us and we receive all the gifts of Jesus His words bring. Thanks be to God for the gift of salvation and for the liturgy which delivers this gift while teaching us how it came to us!

Dr. Jon Eifert is a teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School in Austin, Texas. He has served as organist for HT Conferences in Vegas, Bloomington, and Maryville. He can be reached at prinzipale16@yahoo.com.,

Created: January 7th, 2014