The Hausvater Project

Hausvater: /HAUS-fah-ter/
noun (German)
1. Housefather.
2. Spiritually responsible head of household, including the housefather as assisted by the housemother.
>> Example: "As the Hausvater should teach it [Christian doctrine] to the entire family ..."
(Martin Luther, Small Catechism, 1529)

Feature Articles

The Divine Service, Part 9: The Agnus Dei


After completing the Words of Institution, the pastor elevates the consecrated elements and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” The congregation responds, “Amen” in affirmation and anticipation of the Lord’s peace they are about to receive in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Before they receive Christ in the Sacrament, they join their voices in singing the Agnus Dei (Latin for “Lamb of God”).

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

This liturgical confession of Christ as the Lamb of God, as with all Lutheran liturgy, is drawn from Scripture. John the Baptist announced, upon seeing Christ, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The prophet Isaiah likened the coming Messiah to a lamb: “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth … ” (Isaiah 53:7). St. Peter, reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice, writes, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18–19). And numerous times in his apocalyptic prophecy, St. John identifies Jesus as the once-slain, now living Lamb.

Throughout the Old Testament lambs were sacrificed to atone for Israel’s sins. In the great Passover event, a lamb without blemish or defect was killed and its blood painted onto the Israelite doorposts to save them from the Angel of Death. As a part of their yearly remembering of their redemption from Egypt, the people of Israel killed the Passover lamb as they recalled being mercifully saved by the blood of the lamb.

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus, the Lamb of God, celebrated the Passover with His disciples. The significance cannot be overlooked. They had gathered to kill a lamb to recall their redemption by the blood of the lamb while the Lamb of God stood in their midst preparing to offer Himself to redeem them not from Egypt, but from their greatest enemy: sin. Christ, the Passover Lamb, was preparing to be sacrificed for the sins of the word. And He was offering the benefits of His coming sacrifice to them through this Sacrament, namely mercy and peace.

When we sing the Agnus Dei before Holy Communion, we not only confess Christ to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we ask Him to grant us the benefits of His sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper. It’s as if we were singing: “have mercy upon us in this Sacrament. Grant us Thy peace … in this Sacrament.” Placing the Agnus Dei before Holy Communion confesses that this Sacrament is a means through which God gives us His saving grace. Salvation is given at the altar! This is startling good news. The Sacrament of the Altar is a celebration of salvation.

Even more, experiencing God’s presence in worship isn’t a feeling we have to conjure up through charismatic preaching or adrenaline-pumping music. It’s not that worship shouldn’t be characterized by great preaching and music; it should. God, however, doesn’t place the burden of experiencing Him upon our ability to produce feelings, which are frustratingly fickle. We don’t have to try to draw Him down through our efforts. He comes to us. In the Sacrament of the Altar, God promises His presence and grace regardless of our feelings. That is good news! It is good news we celebrate through the Agnus Dei. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins in the Sacrament and imparts God’s mercy and peace.

 

Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, serves as Vice President of The Hausvater Project.

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TAGS: Divine Service (series), Liturgy

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