Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan
Part Two: Practices – Chapter 6: the Sunday Liturgy
Liturgical worship opposes the Free Church preference for non-fixed worship forms.
- True, the Holy Spirit cannot be domesticated.
- But freedom of the Spirit doesn’t make form impossible.
The shape of the liturgy comes from the Christological and Pneumatological shape of revelation.
- The Spirit’s work of creation always has a form: “the Christ pattern.”
- The liturgy thus is simply a way of structuring worship that’s faithful to that: forming the Church into the body of Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 14:40 juxtaposes order and freedom.
- Even “unstructured” worship services take on some form over time.
Charismatic Christians particularly desire freedom for spontaneous works of the Spirit.
- Even in their churches, there are typically times for such “surprising works” (like during prayer) and times that they’d be inappropriate (like during the sermon).
- Virtually all of these elements can fit naturally into the liturgy. It’s big enough; it can handle it.
Sunday is the original feast day, the foundation and nucleus of the whole liturgical year.
- The Jewish Sabbath was appropriated and transformed by Christians.
- Moved to the 1st day of the week – the Lord’s Day of resurrection
- Also called the 8th day, celebrating the inauguration of the New Creation
- Sunday is not merely the Christian Sabbath: it’s when the work of the God through the people of God (leitourgia – liturgy) is undertaken.
- By learning to appreciate the Sunday liturgy, we can participate more actively and be better spiritually formed by it.
- Four major movements with distinct components comprise the Sunday liturgy…
#1 The Entrance
Gathering to worship begins with the actual traveling to church.
- We’re leaving this world to enter the Kingdom of God.
- The “road to church” is very much the “road to becoming church.”
- It’s a journey from the old creation to the new creation.
- Gathering on just one particular day of the week is a sign that the heavenly worship is only partially realized.
- “The church cannot let down its guard; its very existence is sustained by the juxtapositions of rest and duty, comfort and judgment, receiving and giving, healing from and enduring pain. In short, it is an eschatological existence” (p130).
The Greeting at the beginning of worship is an invitation to the presence of God.
- “How are you this morning?” makes the minister look the host.
- “The Lord be with you!” indicates that God is the host.
- “And also with you!” indicates the unity of the people with the minister; such reconciliation is requisite for all true worship.
- A call to worship from scripture helps remind the congregation why they’re gathered.
Adoration is also part of the Entrance liturgy, proclaiming who God is.
- This is an objective act of praise focusing on God alone, not in terms of the benefits “I” can get from him.
- Adoration also emphasizes the fact that God is the one calling us together in the first place.
- Adoration also shows up elsewhere throughout the liturgy as performative acts, analogous to acclamations before royalty (“Love live the king!”) or a people’s pledge of allegiance to their ruler” (p132).
- Physically bowing down is a biblical and appropriate posture in such liturgical acts.
Confession also belongs at the beginning of the Sunday worship liturgy.
- In earlier liturgies, confessions were made before Sunday even came around.
- Some liturgies put the Confession before the Adoration reflecting an attitude like Psalm 24 – only the pure may ascend God’s holy hill.
- Some liturgies put the Confession after the Adoration reflecting an attitude like Isaiah 6 – the revelation of God’s holiness reveals human unworthiness.
- Proper confessions realize their close link with the profession of faith (homologein means both)! As such, the gospel should be encapsulated even in a confession of sin.
- Liturgical confession should acknowledge both personal and corporate sin, against God and against humanity.
Absolution follows on the heels of liturgical confession, and is yet another “condensation of the Gospel” (p133).
- It’s both for the individual and for the congregation.
- The basis of forgiveness is the cross of Christ; actual forgiveness comes from God’s proclamation.
- Forgiveness is a relational concept – we must confess and receive, not simply presume.
- “Absolution both acknowledges that we do right to confess our sins and takes control of us so that we are renewed for a new beginning in Christ” (p134).
#2 The Proclamation of the Word
What counts as proclamation of the word?
- The public reading of the Scriptures first and foremost
- It precedes & determines the sermon
- Reading of scripture should be such that the entire gospel story is regularly revisited over a period of time
- Proclamation of the Word is a sacramental event
- “Human words do ‘become’ God’s Word in the event of preaching – in much the same way as Christ who was the Word ‘became’ flesh without ceasing to be God. If this is so, why is it so difficult to believe that created things like bread and wine could ‘become’ the body and blood of Christ in the event of the Eucharistic celebration?” (p135).
- Recovering the norm of Word & Sacrament in worship requires the Evangelicals’ strong sacramental doctrine of preaching be extended to include the Eucharist and Baptism also.
- The content of the Proclamation (kerygma) is the Gospel.
- The Gospel does have many different ramifications and temporal applications.
- “In fact, it was the discerning and consolidation of the Christological content of various apostolic documents through the practice of liturgical reading that led eventually to the canonization of some of these texts and the exclusion of others” (p135).
- Preaching, then, ought to place individual readings in context of the entire Bible.
i. Modern expository preaching often gets too wound up in the exegesis of individual passages to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible.
ii. Too narrow a study of any individual passage risks losing sight of the gospel.
iii. Thus, every preacher should be well versed in Christian doctrine and dogmatic theology, if he or she is to preach biblically.
“This is the Word of God” is a theological statement, not a rote statement at the end of a reading.
- The ‘literal’ versus ‘allegorical’ interpretations of the Bible are a false dichotomy.
- ‘Allegorical’ interpretations (more precisely, ‘typological’) are rooted in the ‘literal.’
- Historical-literal exegesis is appropriate because of the Bible’s human authors.
- Spiritual exegesis is appropriate because of the Bible’s divine Author.
i. Hence the Bible is a living word!
ii. The New Testament is in the Old concealed, and the Old Testament is in the New revealed.
- Thus, there is a symbiotic relationship between the Church and its Scriptures.
On the public reading of Scripture:
- “In reading, we are letting the ‘historical form of the church-founding Word,’ that is, the apostolic witness that brought the church into being, to become ‘immediately the present, edifying Word’” (p137).
- “When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore we must listen with reverence to the readings from God’s word, for they make up an element of greatest importance in the Liturgy” (p137).
- Reading is a communal act!
- When the reader prefaces or postscripts a reading, the people respond.
- “The Hallelujah is an acclamation ‘by which the assembly of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel” (p138).
- Such affirmations reinforce that God is speaking to us today.
On the Sermon:
- As the Proclamation of the Word is generally sacramental, the sermon is also, even more specifically
- Preaching is a “Spirit-inspired speech” (p138).
- “Preaching is an exposition of the apostolic Word in the form of testimony” (p138-9).
- Preaching is also about the eschatologically-oriented Kingdom of God.
- Not just health & wealth for today, but with the Cross at its center.
- Fellowship with the crucified Christ, and through him, the ‘least of the brethren.’
On the Creed – see chapter 5’s section on the Creed.
On the Prayers of the People
- Four major areas of general intercession should be covered:
- The needs of the Church
- Civil authorities & salvation of the world
- Those who are burdened or in need
- The local community
- Such intercessions help give individuals the big picture without getting too broad or vague.
- Such intercessions should be thought out (or written out) ahead of time, lest extemporaneous prayer fall into ‘vain repetition’ and distracting mannerisms while struggling for words.
- The intercessor leading these must remember he or she is leading and representing the whole congregation – these are not intercessions of an individual.
- Privatized worship is a persistent problem, especially when people aren’t used to the concept of corporate worship being the Church & God, rather than ‘me’ and God.
On the Sign of Reconciliation and Peace:
- Matthew 5:23-24 provides the rationale for this. Whenever this takes place, it’s best before receiving Eucharist.
- “Sharing a sign of peace” is not the same as greeting your neighbors; it’s a sign of reconciliation. If this cannot be done honestly, the Body is not yet one.
#3 the Eucharist (Holy Communion)
The Eucharist gives the entire liturgy its basic direction and constitutes its culmination.
- “The importance of the Eucharist for the life of the church is based ultimately on the New Testament witness that it was instituted by Jesus Christ himself. What Jesus did on the night he was betrayed was ‘an institutive act.’ It was probably such an understanding that accounted for the particularly poignant way in which the disciples’ meals with Jesus were recalled: the incident on the Emmaus Road in which Jesus was recognized through the breaking of bread; the miraculous catch of fish and Jesus’ invitation to a meal; his eating a piece of broiled fish as confirmation of who he was” (p141).
- The Eucharist is not a commemorative event, nor the creation of a community, but the actualization and fulfillment of Jesus’ work.
- Jesus’ words and prayer of thanksgiving set the model for our celebration.
- Words of Institution and epiclesis comprise the heart of Eucharistic prayers.
On the Offertory:
- Before the money economy, the offerings were according to peoples’ livelihood, and the ‘first-fruits’ concept was much more clearly linked.
- “This is an act of thanksgiving and symbolizes the offering up of our selves. ‘The offering of the bread and wine is a sign of what human labor has done to the gifts of God – making wheat into bread and grapes into wine. Thus we offer our whole selves and our whole lives to him.’ It is therefore appropriate for the collection to be taken at this point” (p141).
The Great Thanksgiving
- Call and response between the minister and the people is another signal of peace and reconciliation.
- The sursum corda signals the Church’s participation in the heavenly worship.
- “Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven” (p142).
- This part of the Eucharistic prayer is Trinitarian!
- Thanks is given to the Father for his work of creation.
- Thanks is given for the redemptive work of the Son.
- The Holy Spirit, then, is asked to descend upon the Church to perfect the sacrifice, and thus the Church, and thus the world.
- The Great Thanksgiving ends with a doxology, keeping the focus of everything upon the glory of God.
The Lord’s Prayer – see chapter 5’s section on the Lord’s Prayer.
Breaking the Bread
- Breaking one loaf is for everyone to share is a symbol of unity.
- “The early Christians maintained the sense of unity of the church by gathering at one place in each town, and even when it was necessary to have more than one congregation meeting in large cities and towns, each congregation would send a piece of the consecrated bread to other congregations in the city as a sign of their unity” (p144)!
- This is a solemn reminder that the Eucharist is not ordinary food.
- It is a great blessing for the faithful who receive it.
- But it is meant for the faithful; woe to those who presume upon it.
- The congregation responds with a “prayer of humble access” of some sort.
Eating & Drinking
- Because it is a sacrament, it is both physical and spiritual nourishment.
- The Eucharist is not best defined by what we know about eating & drinking, but eating & drinking is best defined by what we know about the Eucharist!
- Our created life is in the world, and our resurrection life is in Christ.
- Thus, the new food of the new life is Christ Himself. “He is our bread – because from the very beginning all our hunger was a hunger for Him and all our bread was but a symbol of Him, a symbol that had to become reality” (p145).
#4 the Dismissal
- This is the final word before the people leave the Mount of Transfiguration.
- A benediction is not just a wish or prayer, but a gift or blessing.
- It’s “God’s personal engagement with his people” (p146), not some priestly magic.
- This highlights the eschatological tension of the reality of the Church: it’s time to return to the world around us.
- True worship heightens that tension, not resolves it, because the power of the Spirit actualizes that reality every time.