In God's House-Explanation of Liturgy for Children
IN GOD’S HOUSE- An explanation of our Lutheran Liturgy for Children
As parents, we know that taking children to church can be extremely difficult. We want them to grow up in the faith, and to make God a priority in their lives. Sometimes, however, the negative consequences outweigh the positive when we bring our children to church. They don’t seem to understand what is going on and they don’t seem to get much out of it. They become easily distracted and bored. They get loud and we have to take them out. As a result, we, as parents, can’t worship either. After a few bad experiences, we became less apt to want to bring them at all. With this in mind, and also having four children myself, I have developed a resource that can be used to help our children understand worship. Bringing children to church will never be easy. But, it is my hope that by understanding our Lutheran worship and being able to participate in the service, they will gradually become more comfortable with it.
A. God’s House
A child can understand what a house is. Your family lives in a unique house or apartment. They see different houses in their neighborhood. All houses have things in common. All houses have doors that you use to enter. All houses have people in them that talk with one another. All houses have water in them. All houses have food and drink in them. Music is also common in most houses. Most houses have candles in them. Houses protect us from the outside elements. Believe it or not, all of these things are also found in God’s House. There is a door that allows people to enter. There is conversation going on between God and the people. There is water, food and drink in God’s house. There is music and singing in God’s house. God’s house has candles in it. God’s house protects us from the outside world. You can begin by explaining to your children all that is found in their homes is also found in God’s house.
B. Why Are We Going to Church? A Divine Service
Children often ask why they have to go to church. The standard answer is because God wants us to. This is true; but it is only partially true. God wants us to come to church because He wants to give us His gifts. Worship is primarily Divine Service. That means, that in worship, our God is “divinely serving” us. Our God is using His Word and His Sacraments to bless, to encourage, to strengthen, to empower, to enlist and to do so much more. He does this regardless of age. We come to church because we need what God has to offer. Then, as a response to what He does, we respond with thanksgiving and praise. Why do we go to church? Because God is there and He wants to give us His gifts. All children love to receive a gift. At church, God is giving us gifts. Children can understand that for sure.
C. Preparation for Going to God’s House
Before we go to someone’s house, we make preparations. We put on certain clothes. Maybe as parents, we dress our children in certain clothes and we encourage them to act in a proper way. We can do the same before we go to God’s house. We can remind our children that we are entering the house of God. We, therefore, want to respect His house. We wear nicer clothes. We are on our best behavior, not because we are trying to impress God but because we respect Him and want to give Him our very best. We also can tell our children that being in God’s house is a joyous thing. We have the privilege of hearing and talking with our Heavenly Father. Preparing our children gets them in the proper mind for worship and it also helps us as parents.
II. An Explanation of the Worship Service
A. Singing in God’s House- Hymns and Liturgy
Music is a integral part of our society. Everywhere you go, you hear music. The same is true in God’s house. You hear music being played throughout the Divine Service. It is played before the service begins and after the service ends. It is played throughout the service. Music is heard as we sing the hymns. The hymns are used to help teach all of us the faith. They are a sung confession of the faith. It is my firmly held conviction that our children can not only learn our hymns, but can also value them, as well. To do this, it takes practice. Later in this resource, I will provide you with a list of hymns that children can learn at very early ages. Maybe they won’t know the whole hymn, but they can learn a stanza or two. Learning various hymns as a child leads to a deep and abiding appreciation of them when they are older. Parents can also teach their children to sing various parts of the liturgy. For example, the children can sing the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy.” Children can learn, “Create in Me.” Teaching our children the various parts of the liturgy and the hymns will go a long way to help them participate in the service.
B. Water in God’s House
Most houses today have access to water. Water is necessary for us in that we need it for the normal functions of our body. We need it to keep us clean. The same is true in God’s house. On some occasions, water has a very prominent role. When we have the privilege of having a Baptism, God joins the Water with His Word and washes away that persons sins. They become God’s beloved child. On Sundays when we don’t have a Baptism, there is still water present. We begin most services in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. When we do this, we are remembering our own Baptism where we were washed with the Water and the Word. Every Sunday, we can remind our children to look at the Baptismal font in the front of the church. Remind them how God used water to make them His child.
C. Entering God’s House- Confession/Absolution
Before going into another person’s house, normally, either the person on the inside must let us in or we must have the keys to get in. That is exactly what happens in God’s house. The catechism reminds us that the church has been given the “Office of the Keys.” This a particular church power that Christ gives to His church to open and close heaven. Before we can be in God’s house, we must be ready. That is why we have Confession and Absolution at the beginning of the service. When we confess our sins, and when the pastor proclaims that forgiveness in Jesus’ name, we remember that the door to God is open. We remember why we are able to be in God’s house. He lets us in and we are now with him. We can remind our children how precious the forgiveness of our sins truly is.
D. The Liturgy of the Word- The Introit, Gloria Patri, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, The Salutation and the Collect- Order and Structure in God’s House
This part of the service is the liturgy proper. It is sung every week; so it provides order and structure for our worship. In the Introit, God is speaking to us. The words spoken are related to the Scripture lessons and to the theme for the day. In the Gloria Patri, as well as the Gloria in Excelsis, we give our God the glory due Him. The Kyrie is asking that same God to have mercy on us, His children. Because they are so repetitive, it is my belief that children can learn to sing these sections of the liturgy very early. This section ends with the pastor reminding us that God is with us and then as a response we pray back to Him. The collect is a short summary of the theme for the day. Encourage your children to listen and pray to God as the prayer is said.
E. Apostles’ or Nicene Creed- Saying What We Believe
Understanding God can be difficult for children, as well as for adults. The Creeds are our confession of who God is and what He does in our lives. The Creeds helps us understand Him better. We confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us unique. He keeps us safe and provides for us. He sent his Son to die and rise again for us. He sends His Holy Spirit to bring us to faith and strengthen us in that faith. The earlier you can teach your children the Creeds, the better off you and they will be.
F. God’s Speaking to Us
In the house of God, it is such a joy to hear our God speak to us. That is what He is doing when the Old Testament, the Epistle and the Gospel are being read, as well as during the Sermon. The Hallelujah verse is also sung between the Epistle and the Gospel to remind us that we are about to hear the very words of Jesus. This can also be learned very easily. We need to help our children pay very close attention to the Word of God and to the sermon. During the sermon, God is speaking to us and relating the Word of God to our daily lives. Again, they may not understand all that is said that particular day; but, as they listen, the Holy Spirit is strengthening their faith. The next time they hear the same text, they may understand a little bit more. One way to help our children pay closer attention to the 3 readings is to read them the week before. In your devotion time, maybe before or after the family meal, the father or mother can read the lessons. If they have already heard the readings before Sunday morning, they will really feel a part of the service when that part begins.
G. The Offering- Giving God Money in His House
Explaining the offering to children does not need to be difficult. What we need to tell them is that everything in the world is already owned by God. He made everything that we see around us. We are simply the caretakers of His property. We are called to be good stewards of that property. We give back a portion of what God has already given to us to say thank you to Him. The money is used by the church in its mission and ministry. It is vital that we teach our children to be good stewards. We can teach them this by helping them set aside a portion of the money that comes to them and help them put it in the plate as it is passed. After the Offering, we sing the Offertory, asking God to create in us a new heart. We are making the transition to the second part of the Divine Service- the celebration of Holy Communion.
H. Speaking back to God- Prayers Used in Worship and the Lord’s Prayer
Praying to God is an essential part of being a Christian. We teach our children to pray at the dinner table, before they go to sleep and when someone is hurt. Praying is also an essential part of the Divine Service. During the General Prayer, we pray for what was preached about in the Sermon. We pray for our country, for our leaders, for those suffering, those in the hospital, those celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, as well as any other need that might arise. The Lord’s Prayer, which sometimes comes later in the service, is a beautiful summary of what we can pray to God for. We pray for His name to be kept holy. We pray for His kingdom of grace to come to all people and His will to be done in this world. We pray that He would give us what we need to survive and to help us to forgive those who sin against us. Finally, we pray that the devil would not trick us and that we would not fall into temptation. Learning the Lord’s Prayer can be done by children at a very early age.
I. The Communion Liturgy before the Meal- The Preface, the Proper Preface, The Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei
Again, these are the regular parts of the liturgy that we do every time we celebrate Holy Communion. They help us to prepare our hearts and minds for receiving God’s meal. The Preface reminds us that God is with us, that we are to lift up our hearts and to give thanks for what God is going to be giving to us. The Proper Preface again highlights the theme for the day, and it reminds us why we need to give thanks to our God. The Sanctus reminds us how special it is that Jesus will be present; while the Agnus Dei reminds us that the Body and Blood of Jesus gives us the forgiveness of our sins.
J. God’s Meal
One of the most important times for us as a family in our various households is the time that we spend around the dinner table. We talk about how the day went and we strengthen the relationship that we have with one another. The same is true in God’s house. Holy Communion is the time that we are privileged to eat with our God. It is the time when we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, for life and for salvation. It is also a time in which God strengthens the bond that we have with our fellow Christians at St. John. I must admit that explaining Holy Communion to our children is not an easy task. They don’t understand why they too can’t eat and drink the meal. The easiest thing to say is that when they grow to be about 14 years of age, they too will be able to eat and drink this special meal. When they are old enough to understand what is going on, then they can commune. You can begin by saying that Jesus said that He is present in the bread and wine. It is a mystery. It is God’s way of being with us and our way of eating with Him. You can remind them that they do receive a special blessing from God and this, too, is important. They are part of this fellowship even if they can’t eat the meal quite yet.
K. The Communion Liturgy after God’s Meal- The Nunc Dimittis, the Thanksgiving, the final Prayer and Salutation, the Benedictamus and the Benediction.
After receiving the body and blood of Jesus for our forgiveness, we say, just like Simeon, that we are ready to depart in peace. Our eyes have seen, our ears have heard and our mouths have tasted the salvation of our God. We give God thanks one last time and we pray that what we have received in God’s house will continue in us as we leave. We are told one last time that God is with and He wants to bless us. The final words of God are His blessing and benediction over us. Because of Jesus, His face shines upon us and His peace always rests over us.
III. Other Miscellaneous Elements of God’ s House
A. Decoration in God’s House
Many people decorate their houses based on what time of year it is. If it is Christmas, families put up Christmas trees and decorations. If it is Easter, we have Easter decorations. God’s house is the same. In the church, we follow a church year, with its various colors and decorations throughout the year. The main festivals in the church year are Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. Each time of the year brings with it unique decorations. For example, during Christmas, we have a Christmas tree, and a beautiful manger scene that we put up in the front of the church. During Lent, we put up a large wooden cross, which is draped with purple fabric. As these various “decorations” change throughout the year, we can explain to our children the significance and meaning. Helping our children understand and appreciate the passing of the seasons will help to enhance their worship. Please see the list below of what the different colors in the Church symbolize.
Blue- Advent; a color of royalty as we anticipate the birth of Jesus
White- Christmas, Easter and other holy times- a color of holiness and perfection
Black- Good Friday- a color symbolizing death
Red- Pentecost, other Festivals- a color symbolizing fire, Holy Spirit and bloodshed
Green- Sundays after Pentecost- a color symbolizing growth and new birth
Purple- Lent- a color symbolizing repentance and self-denial
C. Hymns that Children Can Learn throughout the Year (Learn one Stanza at a Time)
Advent- TLH # 62, 63, 68
Christmas- TLH # 87, 94, 102, 646, 647
Epiphany- TLH # 127
Lent- TLH # 146, 149, 159
Easter- TLH# 191, 199, 200
Pentecost- TLH # 657, 658, 376,451, 428