Divine Service in Genesis 1-3
A proper relationship with God is one in which we are first of all passive. This is clearly taught in the first two chapters of Genesis. Before the Fall into sin (Genesis 1–2), God does most of the talking and acting. Holy Scripture begins with a beautiful picture of Divine service. God speaks and acts, and humanity responds in humble obedience. Divine initiative followed by human response is nicely illustrated in the creation of woman. God acts, creating Eve (Gen 2:21—22), and Adam responds by praising God’s creative work (Gen 2:23).
But in Genesis 3, the Serpent interrupts the rhythm of the Divine service. His words come as an unwelcome intrusion into the narrative, disrupting the perfect back and forth between God and humanity, calling into question all of the good things God had said and done. The Serpent tempted Eve with the promise of being “like God,” (Gen 3:5). Not wanting to remain passive in the relationship, but rather desiring to be on equal footing with God, Eve took some of the fruit and ate, and gave some also to her husband who was with her (ironically, remaining silent when he should have spoken up!) and he ate (Gen 3:6). With this meal, Divine service is turned on its head. Like Satan, Adam and Eve act on their own initiative, setting aside God’s Word (Gen 2:16—17), assigning to themselves the role of God. Instead of eating from the trees God had provided for food (Gen 2:16), they ate a meal of their own choosing, exchanging their life-giving relationship with God for some deadly fruit. Instead of listening to the Word of God, Eve listened to the word of Satan.
Ever since then, God has been in constant competition with sinful humanity to get a word in edgeways. Noise threatens to crowd God’s Word out of our lives and destroy our relationship with our Creator. There’s the noise of our own babbling (Ecclesiastes 10:12–14), the groaning of creation (Psalm 46:2–3; Romans 8:21), the lies of the one who looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon (Revelation 13:11), and the busyness and cares of this life (Luke 10:40–42). All of these things provide us with something to listen to other than God’s Word.
Before our sin turned everything on its head, God was not only doing most of the speaking, He was also doing most of the acting. God’s creative work took place without interruption. He created light, sky, land and plants, sun, moon and stars; living creatures in the sea and air, and living creatures on the land. Finally, He created man in His own image, blessed man and woman, and commanded them to multiply and exercise dominion over His creation. Having been served by God, Adam goes about his work without complaint (Gen 2:19), with a song of praise on his lips (Gen 2:23; note the poetic versification in the MT).
But the Fall had devastating consequences for this, too. Where our ears are not attuned to God’s Word, self-chosen acts of worship are sure to follow. After the fall, Adam’s first instinct was to hide from God (Gen 3:8—10), and when he finally showed up in God’s presence, it was on his own terms, in clothes (Gen 3:7,10—11).
Self-chosen worship is a problem that plagues the church today, much as it did Eden. Instead of coming to the Divine Service to be served, many Christians today come to church thinking they are there first of all to do something for God. The response of faith is vital, to be sure, but it is just that: a response. God needs nothing from us. God doesn’t gather us together primarily so that we can praise Him. He gathers us first of all to serve us, not to be served (Mark 10:45).
One of the biggest sources of confusion in the church today is over the role of music in worship. According to our confessions, the primary purpose of music is to teach (AC XXIV.2). Instead, the church today is assaulted by music that says little to nothing about Christ. The focus of mainline evangelical praise songs is often on how much we love Jesus or how He makes us feel, not on what He does for us.
There is also confusion in the church today over who does what in the Divine Service. Though Christ calls pastors into His Church for the purpose of administering Word and Sacrament on behalf of His Church (AC V), many Christians see it as their duty (and even right!) to read God’s Word to the assembly during the Divine Service. Christians have an obligation to read and proclaim God’s Word, to be sure, but this primarily takes place in the home, workplace, community, etc. Instead of coming to the Divine Service to be served, many come to God’s house thinking they are supposed to be doing the serving. In this way, our relationship with God is turned on its head, just as it was in the Garden.
Graciously, God continues to speak, cutting through all the noise with the reminder: “Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). While Peter was still speaking, the Father’s voice came down from heaven as if to say, “Close your mouth and open your ears,” (Matthew 17:5). The Old Adam won’t shut up, but the New Man waits for God in silence and delights in His Divine Service (Psalm 62).
The passive nature of our relationship with God is also highlighted by the existence of the Sabbath. On the seventh day God rested, establishing a pattern in creation. To observe the Sabbath is to recognize that the things we have in this life are not primarily the result of our own labors (Deut 8:17—18). Clothing and shoes, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals, and all we have are first of all God’s gift to us (Small Catechism, explanation of the first article). The Sabbath keeps us in a proper relationship with God and the rest of creation, one where we are first of all served by Him in Word and Sacrament. Faith and life are not primarily about what you do for God or others, but about what God does for you and through you for the benefit of your neighbor. God does not need your service, but your neighbor does. Thus in the post-communion collect we pray that God might strengthen us “in faith toward (Him) and in fervent love toward one another.”
After listening to Adam and Eve’s pathetic excuses (Genesis 3:10–13), God speaks up again, and it didn’t take long before He promises them a Divine Servant who would set their relationship right once again (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 52:13—53:12). Jesus re-creates all things by His Word, healing your broken relationship with God (Ephesians 4:17–24; Revelation 21:5). In the Divine Service, Jesus baptizes, absolves, and feasts with you, giving you to eat of the fruit of the second tree of life, His very body and blood.
In Christ, God has re-created you after His likeness in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). This is not a righteousness that comes from yourself, but is a passive righteousness, one that does nothing for God, but recognizes that He does everything for you (2 Corinthians 3:5). In Christ, you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Him, God speaks and acts on your behalf. As Luther says in thesis 26 of his Heidelberg Disputation, “The law says, “do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done. So with the psalmist we cry, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” (Psalm 62:1).
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