God is present everywhere in all creation (omnipresence). But can you contact Him through spiritual efforts? Will you draw Him into your hearts by your feelings? Do you get His attention through your kind thoughts, words, and deeds? Where is Jesus for you in the whirlwind, in the drought, in flood, in a struggle with sickness, or death? Luther calls God apart from His Word, the hidden god who does not seem for you but often against you.
This god is the same god you meet on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening when those gatherings are about you—your worship, your service, your voice, and your efforts. We often call these gatherings a “worship service.” Worship comes from the old English that means: “to ascribe worth or worthiness.” Properly speaking, “worship” is summarized by the phrase, “prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.” When these gatherings are chiefly about what we do, that is, worship, then they will also be describing God in abstract, lofty, and generic terms. Such a god might be impressive but is also terrifying because we never know if He is truly for us or against us.
Thus, one of the unfortunate consequences of the transition of the churches of the Augsburg Confession from German to English is the use of the expression “worship service.” Instead, the Lutheran Confessions describe what happens each Sunday and Wednesday as Gottesdienst, God’s Service, or as the hymnal calls it, Divine Service. Our Sunday and Wednesday gathering are not first about our worshipful service of God but rather His serving us!
While God is present everywhere, He cannot be found everywhere as the God of love and mercy. Instead, in the Divine Service, Jesus promises to be for us. He is not the abstract or hidden God! Jesus’s presence in the Divine Service is His saving presence in concrete means where He has promised to give us forgiveness and life. He serves us through means that He has appointed and received by us in faith. Word and Sacrament are together the treasures given by the risen Christ as He comes into the midst of His gathered church.
Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead who dwelt in the womb of Mary bodily for us. The God who is everywhere was there in the womb of Mary to redeem us from sin and death. That is why He took on flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:9, 14-18). The center of all human history is Christ’s service to the world on the cross. The center of our life is Christ’s ongoing presence among His gathered people in Word and Sacrament. In the midst of two or three gathered in His name, Christ is present today for us (Matthew 18:20). He comes for us, not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus is the life for us in a world full of death. He bestowed this new life on us in Holy Baptism. He now comes to feed and sustain us. We cannot go back to the cross, but because the risen and ascended Christ possesses all the authority of God’s right hand, He can and does bring the fruits of the cross to us. Our Confessions put it this way: “In the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, bread and wine. We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that “death no longer has dominion over him [Romans 6:9].” The personal, redeeming Jesus is present for us in the Sacrament. This gift of Divine Service is Immanuel, God with us.
Martin Luther summarized the heart of the Divine Service in his hymn, “These Are the Holy Ten Commands.” The fourth stanza focuses on the Third Commandment:
You shall observe the worship day
That peace may fill your home, and pray,
And put aside the work you do,
So that God may work in you.”
Have mercy, Lord!
This truth from Scripture is why nothing in all the world even comes close to the importance of gathering each week in the presence of the risen Christ Jesus, to receive His gifts and respond in prayer and praise. The Word made flesh is present to teach us through His Word. The Word made flesh is present to feed us with His body and blood. The Divine Service is where God, who is everywhere, is present for us to bring forgiveness, life, and salvation directly to us.
God, the Holy Trinity, be with you all,
Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie