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“Living the Liturgy: Agnus Dei”
John 1:29


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Good Friday—April 22, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

For our Lenten services this year we have be looking at the various portions of the historic Liturgy of Christian worship.  We have seen how every part of the Liturgy is drawn directly from the sacred Scriptures.  Describing Christian worship in Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  That’s what the Liturgy is: the Word of God dwelling in us richly, as we worship him with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  The Liturgy is the Word of God in use by the people of God, saying back to him in worship what he has said to us in his Word.

Immediately after the elements of bread and wine have been consecrated with the Words of Institution, the congregation sings the Agnus Dei: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”  “Agnus Dei” is Latin for “Lamb of God.” 

Isaiah prophesied of a Lamb to be slaughtered, a Lamb bearing the sins of many, stricken for the transgressions of the people, a sacrifice for sin.  “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted . . . he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.”

“O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”  The words of that ancient song echo John the Baptist, who at the beginning of Christ’s ministry pointed him out and declared that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” 

Like John the Baptist’s confession of faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, when you sing the Agnus Dei it is like you are again reciting another creed, a brief, beautiful confession of your faith, just before you receive Communion.  The Agnus Dei is a confession of your faith in who Christ is, and what he has done for you: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world.”  It is a confession of your faith in what you trust and expect you will receive from him through this Sacrament: “Have mercy upon us.” 

And, by singing these words just after the Words of Institution, you are also confessing your faith in his real presence in the Sacrament.  Just as John the Baptist confessed that Jesus of Nazareth is not merely a human but also the divine Lamb of God, when you sing the Agnus Dei you are confessing your faith that in this Sacrament of which are about to partake you receive not merely the earthly elements, but in, with, and under the bread and wine you also receive Christ’s very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  The Agnus Dei is a hymn of adoration to your Savior Jesus Christ whom you believe is really present in this Sacrament.  “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”

The final verse of the Agnus Dei concludes, “Grant us thy peace.”  That sums up in one word the significance for you of Christ’s suffering and death: peace.  Paul says in Colossians, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  That is why we call this day “Good Friday.”  Because, through your Savior’s suffering and death you receive from him the greatest good: forgiveness of all your sins, salvation, eternal life, peace with God.

“O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. . . grant us thy peace.”

Amen.

“Living the Liturgy: Benediction”
Numbers 6:22-27


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Good Friday—April 22, 2011

The Liturgy and our sermon series ends where we began: with the invocation of the Triune God.  The Liturgy begins with the Invocation of his blessing upon our worship: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Like a matching bookend at the end of the service, the Liturgy ends with another invocation of the Triune God, his blessing upon us throughout the week which lies ahead, that we have begun by worshipping here in his house: “The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

That is called the Aaronic Benediction because we are told in Numbers, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites.”’”  Though it is from the Old Testament, it is really a Trinitarian blessing, because each stanza refers to a Person of the Trinity: “The Lord—God the Father—bless you and keep you.  The Lord—God the Son—make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord—God the Spirit—lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

The Aaronic Benediction is normally used at services where Holy Communion is celebrated.  For Matins, Vespers, and other occasional services, another Benediction is often used from 2nd Corinthians: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  This is called the Apostolic Benediction because it comes from the Apostle Paul.  It also is a Trinitarian blessing: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ—God the Son—and the love of God—God the Father—and the communion of the Holy Spirit—God the Spirit—be with you all.”

Imagine these two Benedictions being like a triangle, which the minister is spiritually placing around you.  A triangle of God’s love and protection and blessing, to surround you and go with you throughout the week.  Hebrews puts it beautifully: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’”

That is the meaning of the Benediction at the end of the Liturgy.  The Triune God whom you have worshipped, from whom you have received blessings in the Divine Service, will never leave or forsake you.  For, as you go out into the world, his blessing goes with you.

“The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. . .  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Amen.

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