Worship is Horizontal
At St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany, Lucas Cranach a contemporary of Martin Luther, painted an altar panel depicting different aspects of the Reformation and the Lutheran understanding of worship. The bottom panel (the picture included with this post) shows the crucified Christ right in the middle of the congregation, between Luther, the preacher, and the people gathered for worship.
Dave Daubert, the author of ‘The Lutheran Trump Cards’ writes “This is Lutheran preaching at its best. It doesn’t just inform people about Jesus. It helps them actually see the crucified and risen Christ right there among them. Worship that is horizontal does not seek to tell us about a God who dwells up in heaven. The focus is to encounter the incarnate God in the midst of the gathered community.”
This is one reason why we stand for the reading of the gospel; for just as it is customary to stand when the President of the United States or a Judge enters the room, so we stand to acknowledge that in the reading of the gospel—the Living Word, Christ himself is present in our midst.
We see an example of this as well, in our emphasis on the Sacraments and our understanding of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Traditionally, then, our hymns and prayers, even our liturgy, continually point, not to a God who is ‘up there’ or ‘other’ or far away—but to a God who became one of us and is still present and with us each and every day.