The Whys of Worship

Candle and cross

A series of posts by Pastor Eric Landry that help explain our liturgy, providing a context for worship with understanding.
The Church Calendar
Although Presbyterian and Reformed churches are not known for “keeping” the church calendar, a limited use of the liturgical seasons in an appropriate way to commemorate the high points of the gospel message along with our brothers and sisters in Christ in other branches of Christendom. By doing so, we are also able to emphasize for our friends and neighbors the Christian nature of Christmas and Easter, which have nearly become completely secular holidays. Here at Redeemer, we believe that following the church calendar gives us “signposts” throughout the year that draw our attention back to the significant events in the life of Christ: Advent (culminating in Christmas), Epiphany (the appearance of the wise men or, more properly, the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles), Lent (Jesus’ wilderness temptation of 40 days, culminating in Good Friday), Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.

Children and the Liturgy
Worshiping here at Redeemer is a feast for the ears. The music, the singing, the words spoken in unison—each part of our worship service serves up an auditory treasure. In the middle of it all, you might here a small voice yell out its own, “Amen!” Or stumble on a word in the Creed. Or even ask a mother if the “long talking” is done! We love having children in our worship service because we believe that God is forming them (and us) into the worshipers he created us to be. By standing with their parents, by responding with, “Thanks be to God,” by singing the doxology, the heart habits of our children are being formed. It is not enough merely to teach our children the truth, we must also embody the truth in the standing, sitting, praying, singing, giving, receiving acts of worship each Sunday. Parents, please explain the service to your children. Sometimes drawing an illustration in their bulletin can help them follow along. Those of you without children in the service, please welcome the children (as Jesus did!) and give a smile of encouragement to their parents. Sundays can be hard days to be a squirmy child or a tired parent, but the investment we all make here will reap eternal rewards.

The Benediction
Just as God has the first word in this weekly divine encounter we call the worship service, so also God has the last word. That last word is called the “benediction,” which essentially means “to bless” or “to wish well.” God’s last word to his people is a word of blessing, a reminder that he is all-powerful and near to save. It is a promise that having been raised to life, he will sustain us through our lives. It is a good word, a gospel word, that tells us all that must be done has been accomplished in Christ for us. With joyful gratitude we reply, “Amen!” And then we sing. Just as our pastors led us into worship with singing, so we go back out into the world—scattered among our different callings—being led by our pastors with singing. The words of Isaiah come true before our very eyes each week, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace….” (Isaiah 55:12)

Communion Hymns / Agnus Dei
Our worship together each Lord’s Day consists of two parts—The Service of the Word and The Service of the Table. In The Service of the Word we participate in the audible proclamation of the Word of God through the preaching, reading, prayers, and hymns. Then at the Passing of the Peace, there is a conscious transition to The Service of the Table, where we taste and see the visible Word, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This is where, as Michael Horton puts it, “Christus Victor meets the Agnus Dei”—this is where we see most clearly that the Lion of Judah, our Conquering King and the Lamb of God are one and the same; our crucified, risen, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.

As those who hold to the Reformed Faith, we believe in the real presence of Christ in the Supper. In the Eucharist (or Great Thanksgiving), we fellowship with Christ and one another; we are nourished on the body and blood of Christ, as we “behold the Lamb of God (the Agnus Dei) who takes away the sin of the world.”

And it’s during the distribution of the elements that we continue to worship with hymns, all of which testify to the present reality that Christ has risen from the dead and has come to meet with us, as we look for the promise of his coming, where we will fellowship with him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. This is not a time of mourning or morbid introspection—this is a time of worship, great thanksgiving, and sober celebration as we rejoice and sing hymns of praise together in fellowship with our Savior, and one another.  This week’s post by Rev. Jack Smith.

Communion
Communion, along with the preaching of the Word, Baptism, and prayer, is a means of grace—a way that God communicates to his people the tangible benefits of Christ’s redemptive work. For that reason, we believe that Communion should be part of every worship service, for in Communion God confirms the promises that we hear in the preaching with signs and seals of the New Covenant. The way we celebrate Communion may be different from what you have done in other churches. Our service uses an ancient form called, “The Great Thanksgiving.” Through these words (“The Lord be with you…”), prayer (“It is very good and right…”), and song (the “Sanctus”), we claim fellowship with Christ and entrance into heaven itself. We here in Austin join the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven in worship around the throne of God. We believe that in Communion the Holy Spirit miraculously unites us with “the holy catholic church” in heaven and earth and creates “the communion of saints” around the table. A series of posts by Pastor Eric Landry that help explain our liturgy, providing a context for worship with understanding.

Prelude | Words of Preparation | Silence
In our multi-tasking, hyper-connected, “distractified” world, the opportunity to unplug is precious and rare. Each Sunday we ask that you take advantage of that opportunity, and we give you tools that appeal to all your senses to help you transition from one reality into another. The prelude is often a piece of sacred music written to help Christians in another time and place worship God. We use it as a signal that something different is about to happen. You hear the sound of the music; you begin walking into the sanctuary; you sit; you might even feel the notes of the organ vibrating in your body. Then, we give you words of preparation—a text of Scripture and a prayer for the day—that you can use to transition your mind from the kids’ homework, the project still sitting on your desk, the message from a friend, or the worry about the bills toward the worship of God. Finally, we ask that you use a moment of silence for prayer or reflection or just patient waiting for the service to begin. Sometimes it’s hard to “feel” like you’re ready for worship but by regularly using these tools you can prepare your body and your mind to enter into the presence of God.

The Hymns
Redeemer Presbyterian Church is well-known as a singing church! We take Paul’s words in Colossians 3:16 seriously, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The hymns that we sing represent some of the best music that the church has produced over the past 2,000 years. We stand in a long tradition of church music, and we work very hard to choose hymns that are true, good, and beautiful. We want to sing true hymns, those that accurately reflect biblical teaching about God, this world, and our life in it. We want to sing good hymns, those that fit the place in the service where we sing them and have also stood the test of time. And, we want to sing beautiful hymns, those whose lyrics and tune unite to convey the message of the hymn in a manner that gives the congregation full voice. So, lift up your voice and join with all the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, to praise and magnify God’s glorious name!

The Choral Introit
In historic worship, the introit is a short psalm or antiphon (musical sentence) that is sung as the pastors prepare to enter the place of worship and make their way to the chancel—or the place where the communion table, baptismal, and pulpit are located. During the Prelude the congregation arrives and awaits the start of the service, using the time for prayer and meditation. The introit follows and marks the actual beginning of the liturgy by centering our attention on the God we have come to worship. This short musical piece launches us into our first hymn, and the pastors process to the front.

At Redeemer, we use pieces that are written as actual introits, or hymn introductions, or excerpts from choral anthems. They are matched to the musical key of the hymn that follows. It is our hope that these musical pieces will create an atmosphere that encourages us all to sing with full hearts, joyfully entering to be served by our great God!  [This installment is authored by Chief Musician George Dupere.]

The Psalter
(pronounced “salt-er,” the “p” is silent) is the way we describe all the Old Testament Psalms considered as one group, especially as they are being used for worship. The Book of Psalms was the church’s first hymnal. Taking their cue from the worship of the Jewish synagogues, ancient Christians used the lyrics of King David, Moses, Asaph, Solomon, and the Sons of Korah to sing praise to God in their new worship services. We continue that tradition by singing the Psalms, chanting the Psalms, and reading the Psalms in our worship services. This may be one of the first churches you’ve been in that uses the Psalter to such an extent. We do it not just for tradition’s sake, but because we believe along with the German Reformer Martin Luther that the Psalter is “the Bible in miniature.” That is, the Psalms are a kind of summary of all the great doctrines of Scripture, all the great episodes of God’s saving work, and all the great responses of God’s people to God. So, we turn to the Psalms to help guide and give voice to our own worship Sunday after Sunday.

The Choral Anthem
As we approach the Divine Service on Sunday mornings it is our distinct joy and privilege to sing the word of God. Paul in Colossians instructs us to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. In addition to the congregation’s songs, the Redeemer Choir carefully prepares an anthem, based on a biblical passage, as a sacrifice of praise to God and as a ministry to the members of the Body. We make every attempt to choose the most beautiful and profound selections of music, and the choir members work diligently to bring them to the highest possible aesthetic level, demonstrating our full engagement with the Gospel. The placement of the anthem falls at one of five places in the liturgy: 1) song of confession before the Corporate Confession, 2) a continuation of the Gloria (after the Declaration of Absolution), 3) The Psalter (as in this morning’s liturgy), 4) a response to the reading of the scripture lessons, or 5) as a part of our Prayer of Supplication. It is our earnest prayer that you will be caught up in the glory of Christ as you listen and reflect on our glorious Gospel as presented in our anthems.   [This installment is authored by Chief Musician George Dupere.]

Tithes and Offerings
The Old Testament Israelites always came to worship God with a sacrifice in hand. We also come to God with a sacrifice—ourselves! The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:1 that we are “living sacrifices” and that our entire lives are given to God in obedience and praise. Part of that giving action is returning to God a portion of the material wealth with which he has blessed us. Each week, we take up an offering that is used to support the ministry of the church. We continue to use the term, “tithe,” because the example set for us in the Old Testament of Israel giving 10% of their income is a good one to strive after. In study after study, American Christians—some of the most generous people on the planet—are shown to only give between 2% and 4% of their income to the church. What might happen in our churches if we gave 10%? How many missionaries could we support? How much mercy ministry could we provide? How might our own hearts be changed as we create a need in our lives for God to meet, as we acknowledge the power that money often exerts over us, as we participate in the work of the kingdom of God?

The Decalogue (another name for the Ten Commandments) has long been used as a vehicle for confessing our sins. Sadly, many modern Christians tend to think of the Ten Commandments as more worthy of a courthouse monument than a living part of their own worship. The Decalogue was originally given to Israel as a summary of the entire moral law that God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Early synagogue worship used the Ten Commandments are part of their weekly liturgy of worship. We use those same commandments to give depth to our confession of sin (just read how the Westminster Larger Catechism details the duties that are included in each of the commandments). We are confessing that we have sinned in many ways against God and his laws: we have put our faith more in creatures than in God; we have created idols in our hearts, and bowed down and served them; we have misused God’s name; we have not kept God’s day holy; we have been disobedient to all those to whom we owe honor and obedience; we have not respected life; we have been unchaste, delighting in the sins of the flesh; we have been greedy and unwilling to admit our love of the things of this world; we have shaded, twisted, and denied truth; we have longed for the possessions and loved ones of others. We pray that God forgive us of these and all our sins, and strengthen us to walk in his ways and live according to his will, through Jesus Christ our Savior.

The Passing of the Peace
It seems that almost from the beginning the people of God have exercised the practice of greeting one another with a blessing of “Peace.” It is a common greeting in both the Old and New Testaments that has continued in the church now for thousands of years. Of course it is not just any sort of peace that we wish for one another, but the Peace of the Lord! This peace has all the richness of the concept of shalom. Shalom is more than just the absence of strife. It is imbued with the ideas of wholeness and well-being. When we wish one another peace, we are asking God to bless our brothers and sisters with all the good things of heaven and earth. May the peace of the Lord be always with you!
[This installment is authored by Pastor Greg Ward.]

The Corporate Confession of Faith
With Christians all around the world and down through the ages, we confess our faith together using the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. These two creedal statements are some of the oldest summaries of Christian theology and teaching available to us. The Apostles’ Creed was not actually written by the apostles. It originated in the second century as part of a baptismal rite. Its present form was developed by the seventh century. The Nicene Creed was written in AD 325 as a summary of the work at the Council of Nicea. It goes into more detail than the Apostles’ Creed because it was written to correct heresies that denied the Trinity and confused the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ.  [August 7, 2016]

Sermon Lesson and Prayer for Illumination
Although Redeemer follows a lectionary to give guidance to our regular reading of God’s Word in the worship service, the sermon text may be based on other considerations. Some sermon series are born out of an issue that the pastors and elders want to consider together as a congregation. Some are driven by special circumstances unique to a church or its community. Still others are the result of the patient exposition of a particular book of the Bible. After we read the text for the day, we pause to ask God to show us Jesus. We believe that Jesus was telling the truth when he told the disciples on the road to Emmaus that all the Scriptures point to his person and work (Luke 24:27). So, we pray that the Holy Spirit would be active in our midst: opening up spiritually blind eyes and deaf ears so that we might be drawn back to the center of God’s grand narrative of redemption and recreation: Jesus Christ—crucified and risen again.  [July 31, 2016]

Prayer of Supplication and Thanksgiving and the Lord’s Prayer
The public prayers of the church are different than the private prayers that we offer to God in our homes. Although the same requests of God might be made on Sunday as they are on Monday, the prayers of the people during the gathered worship service is a means of grace. God promises to use those prayers to accomplish his will and to enrich us with his presence. Our confidence in God answering our prayers is grounded in the kind of supplications that we make: we generally pray the promises and commands of Scripture, especially as they apply to the life of Redeemer here in Austin. As a congregation, we lend our “amen” to the prayer by praying the Lord’s Prayer together. Using the words Jesus taught his disciples to say, we agree together that our Father in heaven is active in our midst, cares for our needs, forgives our sins, and guides our steps. Through this prayer we envision and enact the coming kingdom of God in our midst. No wonder the Reformed theologian John Calvin called prayer, “the chief exercise of faith”! For in it, we appeal to the God who is there, who hears, and who acts for his people’s good and for his own glory.  [July 24, 2016]

The Call to Worship & Trinitarian Declaration
After ascending the hill of the Lord and entering into the presence of the living God, we wait expectantly to hear God speak to us. God welcomes us into his presence through the words of his minister who calls us to worship. These Scriptural words draw us forward as the people of God who have gathered to receive good gifts from our heavenly Father. We are then reminded that our worship takes on a Trinitarian shape: we offer our praise to the Father, by the Spirit, in the Son. We reply by adoring our God in prayer: extolling the greatness of the God who condescends to meet with his people each week in our gathered worship. [July 17, 2016]

The Lessons [The Lectionary]
“[D]evote yourself to the public reading of Scripture…” (1 Timothy 3:13). Despite the Apostle Paul’s express command—and the tradition of the early church and Protestant reformers—the modern church hears very little Scripture read Sunday after Sunday. Here at Redeemer, we use the Lectionary (a calendar based reading system) to read large portions of Scripture during each worship service. The “lessons” are sections of Scripture drawn from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament Epistles, and the Gospels, giving us broad exposure to the whole counsel of God. As the church year progresses, the readings help focus our attention on what are often called the “Five Evangelical Feast Days”: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost—central events in the life and work of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Each week, the bulletin includes additional readings for you and your family so that the “word of Christ [may] dwell in you richly…” (Col 3:16). [July 10, 2016]

The Hymn of Invocation and Procession
Since the creation of the world, God has set in place a pattern of work and worship. When the day of worship dawns, God’s people lay down their earthly cares and concerns to gather together for worship. As they go, they sing! “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘let us go up to the house of the Lord,’” David sings in Psalm 122. So also, when we gather each Sunday, we sing as we ascend Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). Our pastors lead us into the presence of God by celebrating God’s name, his work, and the blessings that he continues to bestow on his people. So, lift up your voice! Join with us as we enter into God’s presence—knowing that “this is the day that the Lord has made, [so] let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).   [July 3, 2016]

The Votum, Gloria, and Hymn of Gratitude/Praise
Each week, we hear and speak the words of Psalm 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Prior to the Reformation, this verse was privately whispered by the priests as part of their worship. Through John Calvin’s liturgical reforms, the verse took its place at the beginning of the congregation’s worship as a public declaration that God was with his people with his saving grace. We respond to that declaration with two parts of praise. The first is the Gloria, a hymn from the fourth century that extols our triune God. The second is with a Hymn of Gratitude and Praise. Together, these two songs are our response to God’s gracious initiative in calling us into his presence and absolving us of our sins. Despite our sin and misery, we appear before God with confidence, knowing that our God delights in our praise and is present with us as we gather in his name.   [June 26, 2016]

Confession and Absolution
Most of us run away from any honest contemplation of our sin. We measure ourselves against the behavior of others. We justify our selfish actions. We shift blame to those around us. We might even secretly complain that God is the real reason for our misery and distress. The time of confession allows us—both individually and corporately—to be honest with God: maybe for the first time this week, maybe for the first time ever. After we confess our sins, the minister stands with hands raised absolving us, declaring the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ and by the authority of God’s word (John 20:23). We are forgiven because Jesus, who “knew no sin,” suffered the punishment of sin by dying on the cross with the result that “in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).   [June 19, 2016]