In my Lutheran tradition, our worship services have a kind of call and response component to parts of it. We call it liturgy. Liturgy comes from a Greek word that means “work of the people.” When you worship in a Lutheran church (and other liturgical traditions) you’re not a spectator or simply an observer, you’re a participant. You have work to do to make the worship service happen.
At the end of our worship service, after all of the singing, praying, scripture reading, preaching, after sharing the Lord’s Supper and receiving a blessing, when all that’s done one of the ministers says, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.”
Now, for some people, those words might just be their cue to grab their coat and get to their car so that they can be the first ones out of the parking lot. For others, it might be their signal to get to the fellowship room and be the first in line for their coffee.
That final dialogue is called the dismissal. And while those words do just that, dismiss us from our time of worship, it’s not about getting out of the sanctuary because it’s finally over. We don’t go because we’ve had enough. We’re not dismissed because we’ve done our weekly duty.
In the words of the dialogue, we are told to go, but we’re also told that we have an assignment. We have work to do. We are sent to serve the Lord. At times we alter the wording somewhat so that instead of “Serve the Lord” we might say “Share the good news,” or “Remember the poor.”
So when our time of worship is through, we are sent out with an assignment, with homework. As we hit the road and go back to our everyday lives, exactly what is it we’re called to do? In one Bible story, Jesus talks about how people serve him. He says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
In the story, everyone is tripped up when they hear those words, both those who served Jesus and those who failed to serve him. They all ask when it was that they did those things for Jesus or when they didn’t do them.
He answered that any time we do these things for anyone in need, we do it for him. So for followers of Jesus, doing whatever we can to help the poor, the hungry, or the lonely shouldn’t be considered a chore. It’s a privilege. If we love Jesus then we would be overjoyed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger because we’re doing it for him even if we don’t realize it.
During this pandemic, we haven’t been gathering for worship. Our congregation has been streaming our services on Facebook Live. I still do the call and response parts of the liturgy. Sometimes I say the responses, as well. Other times I say my part to the camera and I just assume and trust that the people watching at home are saying their parts. But at the end of it all, after the camera is turned off, we all still have our homework, our assignment to love and serve the Lord.
When we’re under a stay-at-home order, our assignment might take a bit of imagination. So maybe we can’t visit the lonely but a phone call might just brighten their day.
The Banque d’aliments Sudbury Food Bank has seen an increase in clients during the pandemic. You can donate food, but they have more purchasing power than we do, so a donation of money is even better.
If you’re bored at home maybe you can bake a batch of cookies or muffins and drop a few off at different neighbours’ doors as you go out to get your exercise. You might have more creative ways to love and serve the Lord as you love and serve your neighbour.
As I said at the beginning, our worship is not a spectator activity. We are participants and our participation is meant to change us for the better so that we can, in turn, go out and make the world a better place. So go in peace. Serve the Lord. I pray that you can respond with a heartfelt and enthusiastic “Thanks be to God.”
Rev. Thomas P. Arth is with Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sudbury.