Have you ever noticed the subtle ceremony of
receiving the offerings during the Divine Service? The offerings are collected
in plates or baskets, and they are brought forward and given to the pastor or an
assistant. The pastor turns toward the altar, and, as he slightly bows his
head, the offerings are raised slightly to the Lord and placed on the altar or an
Why do we have this ceremony? And what does
it teach us? For that is what ceremony does – it teaches, as the Augsburg
Confession tells us what we need to know about Christ (AC XXIV, 1–3).
Originally, this ceremony included more than
simply bringing forward what was collected in the offering plates. The elements
for the Holy Communion – the bread and the wine – were brought forward with the
offerings. The offerings and elements were lifted toward the Lord and placed
upon the altar. The altar, now made a table, would be set for the Lord’s Supper.
Gifts brought to the altar come from the
sweat of His people’s brow. They are the bread and wine, the fruits of His
people’s labor in this fallen world. After six days of labor and toil, the
people are to bring a generous proportion for the Lord’s work. Gifts set upon
the altar are offered to the Lord for Him to take up and press into service for
His gracious work.
For what is offered to the Lord from the
sweat of His people’s brow – the bread of anxious toil – comes back to us as
the bread of life. The bread comes down from heaven that whoever eats this
bread and drinks this cup will receive life through the forgiveness of their
This is not unlike what the Lord did for His
people in the Old Testament:
shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.
And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his
name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of
your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear
the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are
not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the
place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there,
then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to
the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you
desire – oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves.
And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your
household.” (Deut. 14:22-26)
What a blessing! God provides for us in all
things. He provides bread from the sweat of our brows. He receives this from us
in the first-fruits offerings we give to Him in thanksgiving and praise, and He
turns these into spiritual bread. He gives this heavenly bread – the bread of
eternal life – back to us so we might have joy.
So, the next time you are in the Divine
Service, watch this ceremony in wonder. The offerings we have given to Him, the
Lord gives back to us in His supper so that we may rejoice in the salvation He
won for us upon the cross.