“After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice…said, ‘Come up hither, and I will show you…’ And round the throne…are four living creatures…each of them with six wings, full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” Revelation 4:1-8
Once upon a time, Lutherans were well-schooled in liturgy and church music, knowing from where in Holy Scripture verses of hymn and chant were taken. The Sunday worship service of the Lutheran tradition is much more meaningful and appreciated when one knows that this part of the liturgy comes from that part of the Bible.
Did you know, then, that the Sanctus we sing as part of the Holy Communion liturgy comes directly from Revelation 4:1-8, as well as Isaiah 6:3? Both times in Scripture, this chant is sung while in the presence of the Lord God. It is sung at this part of the communion liturgy in particular because, at this time, we are preparing to be in the presence of God incarnate—the Word become flesh to dwell among us in the Lord’s Supper! As this is the song sung around the throne of grace in heaven, there is no more appropriate hymn to be sung during Sunday worship as part of the Eucharistic liturgy. Singing the Sanctus at this time in worship has deep roots and has been sung, not only by Lutherans, but by Christians for centuries, perhaps being sung by Christians in North Africa in 200 A.D. Many scholars believe it was sung even earlier, given the fact that the Isaiah version was a part of Judaism’s central prayer, the Amidah.
Sometimes, we come to Sunday liturgy and forget that we are in the very presence of God incarnate. We would do well, as Lutherans, to keep our focus, in worship, on God with us in Word and Sacrament. As we journey through Advent, part of our preparation might be a re- focus on the presence of the Lord in our worship—singing with heartfelt awareness, “Holy, holy, holy are you, Lord God Almighty, here in our presence!”
Holy, holy, holy are you, Lord God Almighty, and worthy of being praised! Amen.
Prepared by David Wendel, North American Lutheran Church