Why Do We Say What We Say? - The Invocation
When I was little, I grew up in a church that had responsive readings, unison prayers, versicles, and other elements. I grew to love these liturgical elements of the service as a child because they were familiar and they were comforting. As an adult, I see this same familiarity and comfort in my children as we say the same words together on Sundays. As an adult, I also have the benefit of knowing that the words that we say on Sunday also have great spiritual depth and comfort that goes beyond familiarity. The real comfort comes because in the liturgy God’s Word is speaking the Gospel to me.
One such word of comfort that many of you may often hear on a Sunday morning is called the invocation. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The invocation is something that, I admit, I have often overlooked. It is something that is often said and so it has a tendency to become merely rote. I say, “merely” because rote memory is not a bad thing. For example, I hope my children know my phone number from rote memory. How many of us have John 3:16 memorized or Psalm 23? How many of us would choose not to have more scripture known in a rote fashion for ourselves and our children? Indeed, something good being rote is very good!
However, rote words and actions may present a problem. Rote words and actions become an issue when the words become devoid of meaning. Many a church goer has been heard lamenting that they wish church wasn’t full of rote words and actions. Those who think and feel this way are right. It is an issue that needs to be addressed.
To address the issue, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but we should be more precise in identifying the problem. The problem isn’t that the words are rote, it is that we have a tendency to separate the meaning of the words from the words themselves. To say it another way, we simply don’t think about what we are saying.
So, what should we think about when we hear the words of invocation? I believe there are at least two things we ought to think about when we hear these words.
First, we ought to think of the 2nd commandment. Martin Luther explains the second commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain,” in his Small Catechism. He says, “We should fear and love God so that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks” (emphasis mine). It is precisely this we are doing as we begin the service with the invocation. We are calling upon God, from whom we expect all good things, according to his command as we pray, praise, and give thanks during our worship services.
The second thing we ought to think about when we hear the invocation is when these words were uttered over us in our Baptism. Our Baptism liturgy says, “Receive the sign of the holy cross upon your mind and heart as a token that you shall believe in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. (Insert name here), I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” In Baptism infants are received into Christ’s Body and receive faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. So when we hear the name of the Triune God in the invocation, we can be comforted knowing that is in the name of our good and gracious God that we have gathered and it is from His hand which we will receive grace and mercy.
Now, it must be said, many items in a worship service are a matter of freedom for congregations and pastors. It is not necessary to begin a service with the invocation in the same way it is not absolutely necessary for a pastor to use the AFLC’s pericope or for a congregation to have a certain style of music. In Christ, we are free from the burden of traditions and observances.
As we understand the various liturgical elements in our worship services, what we will find is that the service is filled with scripture. As our knowledge of why we say what we say grows, hopefully, we will grow to appreciate the depth of meaning found in our services and we will be built up in our faith in Jesus Christ. An additional bonus is that we get the privilege of teaching the meaning of these things to our children so their comfort in the words on Sunday is not just caused by familiarity, but it is truly the comfort that only the Gospel provides.
Pastor Nicholas Schultz