What do the parts of the liturgy mean? This is a frequently asked question; maybe you have asked that question yourself. The following descriptions of worship and the parts of liturgy were first published in an article by the former Commission on Worship for the Reporter Insert entitled “Taking a Tour of Heaven.”
Worship is like no place else in this world. But there is one place that it does resemble, and that is heaven
The story is told of how Christianity was introduced to Russia. More than 1,000 years ago Grand Duke Vladimir of Kiev was interested in selecting an appropriate religion for his new nation. His emissaries investigated the main religions of the day, including Roman Catholicism and Islam. But it was only after visiting the chief site of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople that they found what they were looking for. In their report to their duke, the emissaries noted that in Orthodox worship there was such solemn splendor that they had a hard time knowing whether they were in heaven or on earth.
Worship is like that: one foot in heaven with the other here on earth. What brings heaven into our earthly worship is not dependent on the elaborateness of the service or the sincerity of our devotion. Rather, it is because of the One who is present in our worship that we experience heaven on earth.
If worship is "heaven on earth," then it stands to reason that what we do and say in worship should in some sense give us a foretaste of that great feast to come. In the following tour of the Divine Service we will see how the ancient texts of the liturgy give us that glimpse of heaven and, more importantly, how they deliver to us, here and now, the eternal benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Recently I was party to a conversation between pastors regarding the ceremonies of Passiontide and Holy Week. One fellow said that he couldn't see the point in leaving out the Gloria Patri during Passiontide. That brought to mind this famous quotation from Chesterton's essay, "The Drift from Domesticity."
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious.
One of the first principles of liturgical, churchly thinking is that our fathers in the faith deserve our honor and respect. The liturgy is, first and foremost, a gift, an inheritance, something handed down from our fathers. Let us not be ungrateful, snide, or know-it-all children.
Pr. Bryan Wolfmueller, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, Colo., and co-host of the program,Table Talk Radio, reviews the top three "praise songs" with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 54m28s, 21.8 MB, 2011-Apr-05)