At camp, we usually have the kids do a special handshake at the beginning of worship. It’s nice because it gets some of the pre-worship wiggles out of the littlest ones, and it makes the awkwardly shy junior high kids talk to each other. It is also nice because it’s an invocation handshake, and like every special handshake, has special actions and words that go with it.
In the name of the Father. (we shake normal-like)
In the name of the Son. (we do a weird thumb-hug)
In the name of the Holy Spirit. (we raise our hands in the air like we just don’t care.)
We are welcomed to worship.
It was a way that we grounded the children. They stopped (momentarily) drawing fidget spinners in the dirt or kicking each other and they focused, almost exclusively, on their words and actions. Words and actions that were focused on God.
The invocation is, at its simplest form, inviting God to worship. It is across the river, wearing tie-dye and glowsticks, waving at God (who’s paddling a canoe on the already established imagination river), and saying “Hey! Hey, over here! Come over here! We’re here for you! We got some bread and s’mores and maybe a little wine but definitely s’mores!”
The invocation invokes the presence of God into the worship space. Yes, God is technically already there, but the invocation is the confirmation and the declaration. It’s like if you had chocolate and marshmallows and graham crackers, and then you lit the fire. The invocation is lighting the fire for your s’mores party. There’s no backing out. The intention is clear.
(While I’m using the s’mores metaphor, I will also say that the invocation is the bottom graham cracker. It is the one that you place the chocolate on, and then the mallow, and then the other half of the graham. But that second graham is the benediction, which will probably be talked about in a later article. So, we will move on, but remember: invocation and benediction.)
The graham cracker invocation, in most cases, is followed by the chocolate Kyrie, which is a reminder of our sins and involves us asking for mercy—the words we speak “Lord, have mercy on me,” were spoken by a woman (yay women!) in Matthew 15:22. The Kyrie can be traced back to Catholicism, and, since Lutheranism is basically CatholicismLITE, there’s a lot of similarity (with a lot less self-flagellation).
The Kyrie is a way to begin worship by reveling in God’s grace. It is us straight-up asking God for mercy, knowing we are imperfect people. It is us recognizing our shortcomings and our utter humanity, and it is us coming together—as a congregation, as an embodiment of the church—to speak that truth. We are not perfect. We have sinned. Have mercy on us. (This, if you haven’t guessed already, is a BIG DEAL and recurring theme for Lutherans)
And just like chocolate has a long history, so does the Kyrie. It can be traced back centuries, if not millennia. All sorts of people—wealthy, destitute, popes, sex workers, reformers, priests, me, you—have said (or sang) the Kyrie. As we stand and say it, we are connected not just with everyone else in the congregation, but with everyone who has said it ever. By saying the Kyrie, we are joining the melting pot of chocolate (and we all know a good s’more has a slightly melty chocolate). We stand together and say the same words said by our grandparents, by Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, David Letterman (google says he’s lutheran), and by a woman 2000 years ago. “Have mercy on me, Lord.”
Because church is really all about community. It is about not being so alone in a world that is unexplainable and confusing. It is about embracing your humanity and saying that no, you don’t really know what’s going on. We’re all just a 4 Non Blondes song, but at least we’re all a 4 Non Blondes song together.