How Lutherans Worship – 1: Invocation

[What I hope to bring forward in this series of posts is an exploration of not only the HOW and WHY of worship, but also the WHAT of what we do in worship. I will be looking at worship through the lens of the Divine Service and even more specifically, as it is practiced in the historic tradition among Lutherans. As always such things are a work in progress. I learn much just by the doing of it, and by talking with and examining how other practitioners handle the doing of it, and so I already have the greatest reward. I pray you may also benefit by my doing of it.]


The Lutheran Church has retained a historic order for the Divine Service. We follow this order not because we believe it is the only right way but because we believe this ancient pattern of worship most clearly and beautifully serves the purpose of the Divine Service, which is to deliver the gracious gifts of God.

The Divine Service uses two distinct elements that demonstrate a careful balance between repetition and variety, and create a framework for our worship. The most dynamic element of our worship consists of the changeable texts, known as the Propers. The Propers bring variety as they follow the seasons of the Church Year and the associated Scripture readings. The Propers carry the message or theme for the day, which is often taken from the Holy Gospel.

The majority of the Divine Service is comprised of the changeless and timeless texts of the liturgy, some of which have been in continuous use for more than 1,500 years. The parts of the liturgy that do not change each week are called the Ordinary because they are ordinarily present each week in the Divine Service. It is largely through the often-repeated unchangeable texts that the Divine Service becomes the chief means by which the faith is learned-by-heart by the young and by the older Christian as well.

The Athanasian Creed teaches us that true Christian worship can be recognized in two ways. First we worship the God who is triune, that is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The second way we recognize Christian worship is that it is centered on Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Our worship is “Divine” because it is Christ-centered.

The Lutheran Confessions teach us about the “Service” of Divine Service: “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God” (Apology, IV, 310). In the Divine Service, God, who calls, gathers, and enlightens the whole Christian church on earth, comes with His gracious gifts to serve us.

People often think that worship is about what we do for or toward God. The reality is quite different. In the Divine Service God is providing his service for us. In the reading, the preaching, and the proclamation of his Word, in his Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, God comes to us. The work we do in worship is to receive the gift of God’s grace and respond.

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into the thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God. Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure.

Dr. Norman Nagel
from the introduction of Lutheran Worship
[still one of the best concise descriptions
of the Divine Service, bar none]
Because of our sin, we cannot come to God, but God must come to us. This is what takes place in the Divine Service. Through the Word and Sacraments God speaks to his people. He reminds us of our sinfulness and failure to love completely and he then forgives us and assures us of the grace we have in Jesus Christ.

This grace is central to our lives as Christians and we must treat it with all reverence and respect. It was not of our doing and it is not ours to tamper with. Therefore worship is not a matter of novelty or entertainment, much less a matter of attempting to please the masses. For this reason hymns are chosen to round out our worship that are doctrinally sound and theologically significant. Hymns, like the liturgy, must reflect this Christo-centric “God coming to man” theology or else they are unfit for the service. May our worship always be pure and always emphasize this Biblical Christo-centric attitude.


The Divine Service names God for who He is and what He has done for us. God made Himself accessible to us when the Son of the eternal Father was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and became man. That God-Man redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil, through His sacrificial death (Mark 10:45), and rose bodily from the grave to save us. This same Lord is present with us as both true God and true Man in the Divine Service.


In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Since we are Trinitarian we call upon the Triune God to bless that which will follow and confess the true God to whom we direct our worship. The Trinitarian invocation also recalls our Baptism. We call on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in whose name we were baptized. “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” Ephesians 2:18.

The Invocation teaches us the reason why we are in church. Here, at the beginning of the service, we learn that we do not come before God on the basis of our merits or by our deeds. We do not gather to learn a morality, to honor a feeling no matter how sincere, or even to learn how to better our lives and ourselves.  We come because he has called us by his Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the church. The Divine Service is first and foremost an activity of a Christian congregation, members of which have been joined to the Lord by the work of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.

Romans 6:3 ff.
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. . .

In the Invocation we call upon God to be true to his Word, for where his name is, there he has promised to be.

Latin invocatio, “a calling upon”.

Matthew 18:20
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Baptismal font and altar, St. John Lutheran Church, Libby MT

The pastor speaks the Invocation boldly and confidently as he stands before the congregation. The Invocation is addressed to God, so the pastor will face the altar. The pastor can be located on the pavement outside of the chancel, or in the chancel but in any case, outside of the altar area.

The practice that is sometimes seen, of the pastor speaking the Invocation while facing the congregation and making the sign of the cross over the congregation, is historically without foundation and wrongly turns the Invocation into a blessing and bestowal of the Divine Name. The Invocation recalls our Baptism, it does not reenact it, or become a blessing in place of or in addition to it. Rather, with the pastor facing the altar speaking the Invocation, his signing of the cross is a personal signature, and it is appropriate that all those who are baptized may join in making the sign of the cross as a remembrance of their baptism.

Comforted and assured of our position as children of God, we are called into His presence in the Divine Service so He can bless us.

Other Scriptural References:
Matthew 3:13-17
Matthew 28:19
2 Corinthians 13:14

Next: Excursus: The Sign of the Cross

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