We often take for granted the idea of giving offerings during the worship service and sometimes visitors will remark that this all the church is about; money, money, money. But, is there a biblical principle for whole stewardship living?
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 adjacent table.
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 sins.
This is not unlike what the Lord did for His people in the Old Testament:
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.
Blessed summer in Jesus!
Pastor Mike Bailey