A Walk Through Trinity’s Liturgy, Part 1

A Walk Through Trinity’s Liturgy, Part 1 January 22, 2005

This continues a Sunday School series on worship, interrupted by the holidays and resumed on Sunday, January 23.

In our previous studies, we have laid out some basic biblical patterns for worship. First, we examined the sacrificial character of worship, showing how the sequence of OT sacrifice provides a pattern for NC worship. That pattern moves from cleansing, through an ascension, to communion. That provides the large pattern for the liturgy used at Trinity Reformed Church. After entering, we confess our sins, ascend in song to the ?mountaintop?Eof the heavenly Zion to hear God?s word and to commune at His table, and then we are sent back down to minister in the valley below. Through this sacrificial sequence, we renew covenant as a community with our Lord, the covenant first established by the sacrificial work of Jesus.

Second, we examined the dialogic pattern of Christian worship, and I suggested that this dialogue is not accidental to worship but part of our liturgical incorporation into the eternal conversation of the Triune Persons. Through the Spirit, we offer groanings that cannot be uttered to the Father; and our prayers are caught up by our heavenly High Priest, who lives to make intercession for us.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we saw that worship is fundamentally and first of all God?s minister to us, rather than our ministry to God. God does not need anything He has made. He delights to receive our praise, but our ability to praise, to glorify God, is in fact a radiance of His glory rather than something that originates with us. In worship, God remakes us as forgiven saints who are welcome into His house; speaks to us His word of command and promise; feeds us at His table. Worship is the work of the Father through the Son and Spirit, and only because it is that does worship become the work of the church.

This week, and next week at least, we?ll be walking through the liturgy to discuss the specifics of the worship service, showing how they are connected to these biblical patterns.

With our new liturgy, we introduced a procession. After the announcements, there is a period of silence as each of us individually prepares for worship. Then the piano begins to play the Doxology, the congregation stands, and we sing the Doxology together. As the congregation sings, the minister walks down the central aisle, and stands in front of the table for the opening exchange. This is how it looks in the bulletin:

(the people shall stand)
Doxology, Cantus # 437

Who needs a procession? Why can?t the minister just walk up during the time of silent prayer, and then issue the call to worship? (This used to be the practice at Trinity.) The answer is, he could. Why not have a larger procession, with choir and others processing in with the minister? Why not have the whole congregation process in? The answer is, these are also options. So, why a procession? Who needs it?

First, it?s important to realize that processions do play a role in biblical worship. When David is separated from the temple, one of the things he longs for is leading the procession to the house of God (Psalm 42:4). This imitates Yahweh Himself, who comes to His house in a procession of angels (Psalm 68:24). David complaints to Yahweh that his close friend who used to ?walk in the house of God in the throng?Ehas now turned against him (Psalm 55:14). Psalms 120-134, the Psalms of Ascent, were written to be sung as Israelites made their way toward the temple for festivals. The sequence begins with the Psalmist distant from Yahweh, in the tents of Kedar (Psalm 120), but he lifts his eyes to the temple mount, where Yahweh dwells who is his help (Psalm 121). He rejoices at the invitation to join a pilgrimage (Psalm 122), and looks to the Yahweh as a servant looks to his master (Psalm 123). At the end of the sequence, Israel comes together as brothers in unity, represented by the Aaronic priest (Psalm 133) and they join in worship with the servants of Yahweh who continually praise Him in His sanctuary (Psalm 134). In Nehemiah, to take another example, the dedication ceremony of the walls involves a procession around the walls (Nehemiah 12:27-47), and the journey from Egypt to Sinai, and from Sinai to the promised land, can be seen as an extended liturgical procession. Israel defeated Jericho by processing around the city for a week (Joshua 6).

Second, the procession represents the transition that the church is making. This is not a transition from a ?secular?Eworld to a ?sacred?Eworld. The whole of reality is God?s, and all things are to be consecrated by prayer and thanksgiving. Rather, the procession represents the church?s movement into the presence of God, or, to put the same thing in different terms, from the present world into the world to come. The gathering of the church each week is a foretaste of the final kingdom of God, it is the final kingdom of God intervening in and among the kingdom of the world, the end of history erupting in the middle of history. What we enjoy on the Lord?s Day is what we will enjoy throughout the Endless Lord?s Day of the coming kingdom. This must be understood in the most concrete way possible. The fellowship we enjoy each Lord?s day is a foretaste of the even more intimate fellowship of the kingdom of God; the forgiveness announced on the Lord?s Day in the absolution is the same verdict that will be announced at the Last Day, when the Risen Jesus will judge each man according to His works; the Word we receive on the Lord?s Day is the Word of the Lord who will be revealed at the last; the feast we enjoy on the Lord?s day anticipates the marriage Supper of the Lamb, not as a ?pointer?Eto a different meal but as participation in the first course of a meal whose main course is yet to come.

Though I think he polemicizes too much against the notion of ?symbol,?EAlexander Schmemann captures beautifully the significance of the procession: ?The next act of the liturgy is the entrance: the coming of the celebrant to the altar. It has been given all possible symbolical explanations, but it is not a ?symbol.?EIt is the very movement of the Church as passage from the old into the new, from ?this world?Einto the ?world to come?Eand, as such, it is the essential movement of the liturgical ?journey.?EIn ?this world?Ethere is no altar and the temple has been destroyed. For the only altar is Christ Himself, His humanity, which He has assumed and deified and made the temple of God, the altar of His presence. And Christ ascended into heaven. The altar thus is the sign that in Christ we have been given access to heaven, that the Church is the ?passage?Eto heaven, the entrance into the heavenly sanctuary, and that only by ?entering,?Eby ascending to heaven does the Church fulfill herself, become what she is. And so the entrance at the Eucharist, this approach of the celebrant ?Eand in him, of the whole Church ?Eto the altar is not a symbol. It is the crucial and decisive act in which the true dimensions of the sacrament are revealed and established. It is not ?grace?Ethat comes down; it is the Church that enters into ?grace,?Eand grace means the new being, the Kingdom, the world to come?E( For the Life of the World , p. 31).

As the minister moves forward, he represents the movement of the whole church to the foot of God?s mountain, the heavenly Zion. He stops at the foot of the mountain to call people to join him in the ascent.

We cannot presume to bust into God?s presence at our own whim. God is the High King of Heaven, and the High King issues summons. We are coming to the threshold of God?s house, and we must be invited in. We have no right in ourselves to enter. We have no gives that aren?t already received by the grace of the king. Before we presume to set foot in God?s house, He must call us. And his ambassador, the minister, is privileged to issue this call.

Here?s what the call looks like in the Trinity bulletin:

Minister Let us worship God in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
People Amen.
Minister The Lord be with you.
People And with your spirit.
Minister I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord.
People Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Minister Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
People Maker of heaven and earth.

Several points may be made about this exchange, the first dialogue of the worship service. First, as the authorized and ordained representative of Christ, the minister issues the invitation to enter the house of God, to ascend to the peak of His mountain. He calls the people with the ?Let us worship?Esentence. Note that it is the Triune God that is identified from the very outset as the God whom we worship. We worship the one God who is Father, Son and Spirit. The people respond to this invitation to enter to serve the Triune God with an ?Amen?Ethat expresses their commitment to join in worship. The echo of the baptismal formula is also not accidental. Those who have been baptized into the Triune Name are both authorized and required to worship God in the Triune Name; and those who have entered into covenant through Triune baptism are called to renew covenant in the Name of the Triune God.

Second, the second exchange is used periodically through the worship service, and always expresses a unity. The mutual blessing of the minister and people forms a community for prayer and praise. The exchange may not appear in precisely this form in Scripture, but it surely expresses a biblical form of greeting (cf. Psalm 129:8). Ruth 2:4 records what may well have been a standard form of greeting in ancient Israel: ?May Yahweh be with you,?Esays Boaz, and his men reply, ?May Yahweh bless you?E(2 Thessalonians 3:16). Paul closes several letters with pronouncing the blessing of the Lord?s presence, expressing hope that the Lord will be ?with your spirit?E(Galatians 6:18; Philippians 4:23; 2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 1:25). Greeting formulae are inevitable in any culture ?Ehandshakes, hiya?s, and how-ya-doin?s. Developing the habit of Christian greeting (greet with blessing; holy kiss) seems to be a good thing to do. As minister and people meet at the foot of the mountain to ascend, they greet one another with blessing.

The final two exchanges in this opening greeting are taken directly from the Psalms. The first is Psalm 122:1-2, the opening verses of one of the Psalms of Ascent. The Psalm is speaking of the pilgrim?s entrance into Jerusalem and his approach to the temple for worship. By repeating these verses, we express our gladness at the privilege of placing our feet in the holy space of God?s house.

The final exchange in this dialogue is from another Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 124:8 (cf. Psalm 121:2). Again, the setting of the Psalm fits with this moment of our worship, since it refers to the pilgrim?s approach to God?s presence. This verse, however, particularly emphasizes our utter dependence on God?s Spirit in our worship. We have been summoned to worship the Triune God, who is the awesome ?Maker of heaven and earth?E we have joined together in mutual blessing in preparation for our entrance to His presence; we are full joy as our feet cross the threshold. But we also realize that we have no strength for the task. The minister reassures hesitant pilgrims with Psalm 124:8: It?s true that you have no right to enter, and no power to do what God is calling you to do; yet, He Himself is our help, working in us by His Spirit so that we can worship God in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It?s in this setting that we pray the ?collect for purity.?EA ?collect?Eis a brief prayer with a typical form: it includes an address to God, a reference to some attribute that is the ground or basis for the prayer, a short petition, and a concluding act of praise. The name is from a Latin word that means ?assembly,?Eand the name might refer either to the fact that it assembles various themes of worship, or that it is offered as the congregation assembles, or that it collects together the prayers of the congregation. There is no real conflict between these different meanings. In particular, the ?collect for purity?Eis commonly used in Anglican liturgies (from summary in Westminster Dictionary of Worship , p. 139).

One website gives this background to the prayer: ?As found in the Book of Common Prayer (1979), p323, Holy Eucharist I, Episcopal Church of the United States of America; this prayer follows the acclamation or opening sentence. It is essentially a English translation of a prayer contained in the Latin (Sarum) rite of the 16th century by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (episcopate:1533-1555). Cranmer was the author, essentially, of the vernacular reformed liturgy of the English Church. As an adaptation of a prayer formerly said by a minister preparing for the celebration of the liturgy, Cranmer moved this prayer out of the sacristy and into the opening of the Holy Communion service where it appeared in the first Prayer Book of 1549. It is the opening Collect of the ?The Supper of the Lord and Holy Communion, Commonly called the Mass.?EIts location and translation is a statement in itself of the newly emphasized office of the priesthood of all believers. It has appeared in the same liturgical place in all subsequent revisions of the Prayer Book as well.?EIn our worship at Trinity, we have put the collect for purity at the beginning of the service, because we believe that the entire service is a ?Eucharistic?Eservice. We believe in a unified service, rather than accepting the traditional and unbiblical split between a synaxis of the Word and a Eucharistic liturgy.

In our Trinity bulletin, it looks like this:

Collect for Purity
Minister Almighty God,
People join Unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You and worthily magnify Your Glorious Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The placement of this prayer in the liturgy is critical. We have come to the threshold of God?s house, the foot of the holy mountain. We know that the Lord is our help as we ascend. We know that we must be cleansed by confession if we are to be acceptable in His presence. The prayer reminds us that we are confessing before a God who knows us with utter and infinite thoroughness; He is a God to whom all things are transparent. But we also know that we cannot even confess rightly without God?s help. So, before we confess our sins, we pray that the Lord would enable us to love Him perfectly and magnify His name worthily in our confession.

The Collect for Purity applies immediately to the Confession of sin, but it also applies to the entire liturgy. We cannot hear the word aright; we cannot pray aright; we cannot come to the table aright unless the Spirit has cleansed our hearts to love the Triune God. This prayer thus looms over the entire service, reminding us that our worship is not from ourselves but is itself the gift of God.

When the Collect for Purity is finished, we are ready for the first offering of sacrifice, the sin offering of confession for cleansing and purification. Before we confess, however, the Word of God confronts us and calls us to confession. That?s next week.

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