The Divine Service: What is the Processional All About?

by Kathy Strauch

It’s all about Jesus. That’s what we heard at Higher Things conferences this summer and that is what we confess. The Scriptures are about Jesus. The apostle Paul writes, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) From beginning to end it’s all about Jesus crucified and risen for you and me.

We heard this message proclaimed to us through daily worship, breakouts, plenaries, and in the bookends of the conference—the Divine Service. 

Have you ever had questions about the Divine Service or asked your pastor about it? Why do we follow the historic liturgy? What is all the sitting, standing, singing, confessing, and preaching about? What is going on during the Divine Service?

The Divine Service is a gift. Here God gives us life and salvation by delivering the work of Christ to us through the Word and sacraments. 

“For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.” 

We confess these words. We do not enter into the Divine Service with our own works. The Divine Service is not a transaction with God. Rather, we come confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness and a renewed heart that only God can create in us. 

The Divine Service was familiar to me, the processional, however, was not. So, what is the processional all about?

It’s all about Jesus. 

While I was not familiar with this part of the liturgy, I was familiar with the imagery. As the processional made its way forward with the crucifix lifted high and leading the procession through the congregation, I was reminded of a reflection of this in the Old Testament. 

“And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Numbers 21:8–9)

The Israelites had grumbled against God and Moses and, as a result, God sent fiery serpents to visit His people. But, God had also attached a promise to the sign of the bronze serpent. “And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” 

Just as Jesus opened up the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus takes Nicodemus back to this story to demonstrate that all Scripture testifies to Himself.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14–15)

The serpent in the desert is an image of Christ. It was Jesus who was lifted up on the cross for us. When the poisonous fangs of our sin, death, and the devil sink into us, it is Christ and Him crucified we look to for eternal life. 

The processional is all about Jesus. The work of Christ is literally held up and placed before our eyes as we entered into the Divine Service. The gifts given in the Divine Service flow from His cross. He gives Himself to us. The processional, just like the entirety of the Divine Service has its focus on Christ crucified for you.

Kathy Strauch is a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan and is a graphic designer.

Created: August 17th, 2017