The Battle is Won

The Liturgy as Narrative

Part IX

Act III Scene I

Agnus Dei

Not every story ends in a final battle; army against army. Sometimes the finale is between two people. An argument where the hero takes a stand against the villain by making an impassioned speech, an appeal to the better nature of the villain.

The battle is often so lopsided, it’s no battle at all.

Jesus didn’t fight Satan for the title of Ruler of the World. There was never a fight. Jesus was always going to win. The fight wasn’t between Jesus and Satan. It was between God and death.

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

1 Corinthians 15:55 ESV

The Narrative

In this part of the story the hero rises up with, or without a team. He fights back against the villain. It’s all or nothing. Winner take all. No going back. Defeat is death.

In some cases defeat is the lead in to the sequel, but that’s a different kind of story.

The hero makes an impassioned speech to rally the troops. Unless the hero is alone on a cross.

Jesus’ final words on the cross were, “It is finished.” And no one understood them. He died and maybe they believed he was talking about his life being over, but as it stands, only a Roman Centurion figured it out.

“Surely, this was the Son of God,” he said.

Is this really the final battle? The hero dies?

Agnus Dei

Yes. The hero dies.

And we thank and praise him for it.

We take part in this meal, the Lord’s Supper, because Jesus Christ died and took our sins away, on the cross, long ago. We even sing about it in a song we call the Agnus Dei[1]Translated from the Latin as “Lamb of God”.

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; grant us peace, grant us peace.

The Distribution

Now we come to it. The Lord’s Supper. Jesus’ death on the cross was for our sins. The Bible says

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 9:22

Imperfect blood is an imperfect sacrifice, but Jesus was perfect right down to his blood. His sacrifice is once and for all.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Hebrews 9:13-14

We approach the alter, the table, to receive the meal, which Jesus called His flesh and blood. The pastor blesses it saying:

Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins. [2]This is sticking point for some Christians. As Lutherans we do not believe in Transubstantiation, or even Consubstantiation. We believe in what is called the Real Presence. Jesus is present in the … Continue reading

And we eat.

Then we are given the wine. The elder says:

Take, drink; this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

And we drink.

When everyone is done the Pastor says:

The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.

We are strengthened in our faith by the shed body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Post-Communion Canticle[3]Canticle is a fun word to say. It makes me smile. Go ahead, you say it. Canticle. Are you smiling?

We sing this song which sounds, to me, like an old pub song, a drinking song, if you will. There’s one arrangement that makes me think of people in a pub standing shoulder to shoulder, bobbing back and forth with mugs in hand…but that’s just me.

Thank the Lord and sing His praise; tell ev’ryone what He has done. Let ev’ryone who seeks the Lord rejoice and proudly bear His name. He recalls His promises and leads His people forth in Joy with shouts of thanksgiving. Aleluia, aleluia.

Nunc Dimittis [4]Translated from the Latin as “Now you dismiss”

But we’re not done yet because there’s another flash back. We’re going to sing the Song of Simeon when Simeon met Jesus as a baby. Why? Because it’s all part of the same story. Jesus was born into this world to die for our sins and rise again to give us new life.

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to They word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel. [5]This is one of those parts of the liturgy we still sing in the King James version. I’m not sure why. Probably habit.

Luke 2:29-32

Additionally we sing:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The Collect

With any victorious finale there’s a moment to pause and reflect. We call it the Collect, pronounced col’ ect, with the emphasis on the first syllable. It’s a simple prayer bringing the people together (collecting them) after the victory of the Lord’s Supper.

The pastor prays:

We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Benediction

One more blessing from the Old Testament. It’s one of my favorites. The pastor says:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.
Amen

Numbers 6:24-26

Epilogue

We sing a final hymn in praise of Jesus and we depart.

And the story goes on…

Why do we keep thanking and praising Jesus as if he’s still alive?

Because He is.

And not just in our hearts, or dreams, or as an idea.

Jesus Christ rose from the grave. He’s literally alive and glorified. He lives and reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever.

Jesus lives and we come back week after week to gather together to praise and thank him for his death and resurrection and all He’s done for us.

Jesus lives and we read his word to know more about him. Not just once, but again and again, day after day, because while the Word of the Lord doesn’t change we do and we see things in a new light and learn more about Him every time.

That’s the story of the liturgy. A hero’s journey from the perspective of those the hero saved.

Amen.

References

References
1 Translated from the Latin as “Lamb of God”
2 This is sticking point for some Christians. As Lutherans we do not believe in Transubstantiation, or even Consubstantiation. We believe in what is called the Real Presence. Jesus is present in the bread and wine, but the bread and wine is not Jesus. This makes it more than symbolic, as our Baptist brothers and sisters believe, but not worthy of worship, as our Catholic brothers and sisters believe.
3 Canticle is a fun word to say. It makes me smile. Go ahead, you say it. Canticle. Are you smiling?
4 Translated from the Latin as “Now you dismiss”
5 This is one of those parts of the liturgy we still sing in the King James version. I’m not sure why. Probably habit.
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