The word liturgy actually means “service” and in the setting of corporate worship we gather together to offer our complete and unreserved service to Almighty God, our Heavenly Father. As the apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, ESV).
Those words challenge us to live a life of total commitment to Christ every day, not just on the Lord’s Day or Sunday. Yet, the place that our worship really begins is on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, this is why many call this day “the Lord’s Day”. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews challenges his readers, including you and me, with these words: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-35, ESV).
Thus far in our study of the Church’s Liturgy, we have looked at the importance of the Invocation, the Confession & Forgiveness or the Confession & Absolution (September article), the importance of the Kyrie, the Salutation or the Greeting, and the Collect or the Prayer of the Day (October article).
This month we turn our attention to the Third Part of the Liturgy. In the first and second parts of the Liturgy, we enter into the presence of God. We do this through the invocation, the confession of our sins, the assurance of His forgiveness, the Kyrie as we call upon the Lord and seek His mercy, and the Prayer of the Day which “collects” us or brings us together into the presence of the One who is Holy, Holy, Holy!
Having entered into the presence of the Holy One, we turn our attention to Him as He speaks to us through His Word and Spirit. One author put it this way, “Now we reach the high point of our worship. We have opened our lips in prayer and praise to God. Now we fall silent before Him, as the Lord Himself speaks to us. As He speaks, He reveals Himself and His will in a special way: in the reading, hearing, and preaching of His Holy Word. God has made Himself known to us in the Holy Scriptures. This is how He speaks to us. This is the source of faith and life (John 17:17). Without the Word of God our worship, our faith, and our very lives would wither and die.”
Our Liturgy consists and is founded upon God’s Word. His Word comes to us in two readings, a psalm, and the Gospel. Usually the first reading is taken from an Old Testament passage and the second reading from a New Testament Epistle, but this is not always the case depending on the season of the church year. Between these two readings is the Psalm of the Day. God gave us the psalms for singing! This was God’s purpose from the beginning. He inspired the human authors of the psalms to teach the people to sings their words to the glory of God. This is why we still chant the psalms in our worship. Following the Psalm of the Day is the Hallelujah. The Hallelujah which means “Praise the Lord!” is a cry of rejoicing that we – the redeemed of the LORD – are allowed to approach and enter into the very presence of the Lord our God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and rejoice in the gifts of His salvation!
Immediately following the readings and chanting of the Psalm of the Day is the Gospel Acclamation. The Gospel Acclamation consists of two parts. One is sung before the reading of the Gospel and the other afterward. The Gospel Acclamation reminds us that the Words of the Gospel, like all of Holy Scriptures are inspired, God-breathed, and give to us His divine revelation. The very words of the Gospel Acclamation explicitly remind us that Jesus Christ is the very Word of God incarnate and He and He alone holds the very words of life (see John 6:68).
Now is the time for the reading of the Gospel. The Gospel reading centers upon the life and words of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the key theme of the day that is also illuminated and amplified by the prior readings of Holy Scripture, forming a unity of the whole of God’s Word in the Old and New Testaments around the very words and deeds of Christ our Saviour.
It is important to point out at this point that the readings in the Liturgical Year are known as Year A, B, and C. The three Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke for the core of the Lectionary and the church year. The three Gospels that we call “Synoptic” are very similar in content as written by three different human writers. However, each writer was equally inspired by the Holy Spirit to write as God revealed His Holy Word to him (see II Timothy 3:16-17; I Peter 1:20-21). The Gospel of John is not considered one of the Synoptic Gospels, as John reveals to us in the pages of his writing more information about Jesus that is not necessarily found in the other Gospel accounts. However, the Lectionary does not omit the Gospel of John. Readings from this Gospel are also included in Years A, B, and C at various times during the Liturgical Year.
Following the readings, the psalm, and the Gospel is the preaching of the Word. The sermon is often taken from one part or theme of the readings but can be an exposition of the whole of the readings, as all the readings of the day as well as the individual aspects of the daily service are designed to complement one another.
The Hymn of the Day following the sermon, like the whole of the music and hymns of the service, again unify and amplify the theme of the day in praise and thanksgiving to God. In some churches the hymn is prior to the sermon and is designed to prepare our hearts for the preaching of God’s Word. In other churches the hymn is sung after the sermon, as is our practice, and seeks to infuse our hearts with praise to our Heavenly Father for His Holy Word revealed to us.
Following the Hymn of the Day, we affirm in the presence of God Himself and each other those things that we really believe and form the “core essentials” of our faith. The Creeds of the church, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, summarize the message of the Gospel that we embrace by the grace of God. Both Creeds are excellent summaries of what we believe God has done, is doing, and will do for us His people.
Finally, the entire congregation offers our prayers together as we “pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs.” In the Prayers of the Church, we affirm our adoration, make our confession, present our thanksgiving, and offer our supplications before God. Here is also a pattern for all us in our private prayers. The acronym “ACTS” the book in the New Testament provides a good paradigm for our own free prayers: “A” – adoration for God, “C” – confession as we confess both our sins and our need for redemption, “T” – thanksgiving as we thank God for all His many mercies and blessings given to us, and “S” – supplication as we bring before the throne of our Heavenly Father our needs and the needs of others.
So, “Why the Liturgy?” The Liturgy provides us with the historic and traditional means of worshipping the One True God in Spirit and in truth (see John 4:24). The ancient Liturgy of the church has stood the test of time and more importantly is firmed established upon the revealed Word of God. In worship we enter into the presence of Almighty God who created us and has redeemed us and He welcomes us into His presence as we joyfully respond to His love, mercy, and grace!
Thanks be to God!
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