The season of Advent is the beginning of the church year. If you follow the lectionary readings for this season you will find that they are accounts of prophets proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom and anticipation of the coming of the messiah. We re-live this anticipation through these texts, our music, and even the way creation enters more deeply into darkness until the passing of the winter solstice.
On Thanksgiving Day many churches offer a very traditional worship service: Psalm 100, a litany of thanksgiving, “Come, You Thankful People, Come.” On a day when we look back with gratitude at God’s good gifts to us, it makes sense to make use of the work and wisdom of our forebears and to worship using that which is tried and true. Other congregations seek innovation: pilgrim puppets behind the pulpit, prayers of thanks colored (not written) in crayon on scraps of paper and dropped in the offering plate.
Our culture craves novelty, which may explain—but doesn’t necessarily commend—our thirst for it. A more laudable urge is to offer in our worship not a stale tradition, repeated out of habit, but something original: our creative expression, our prayers and words and music, our very selves. We want to offer something fresh and new. But must it be an either/or choice? Many congregations are very successful in their efforts to examine the tried and true traditions (often more true than actually tried), identify the best in them, and then freshen them in ways sensitive to their contexts. Here are a few ideas...
What should Christians do when we gather to worship? Of course, there are all sorts of things we actually do: we stand, we sit, we sing, we raise our hands, we are silent, we eat and drink, we pray. Then again, we do all these things when we attend a football game. But in worship we do all these things (and many more) with worshipful purposes in mind: to confess, to praise, to hear the Word, etc. But we don't do every possible option at every single service. So what elements are so important that we should not do without them?
The Bible offers many examples of the sorts of things worshippers do when they assemble: the Old Testament records in great detail what Temple worship was supposed to look like, including the specifics of animal and agricultural sacrifices. The gospel of Luke tells of reading from the scriptures as part of synogogue worship. Acts 2 tells us that the early church devoted itself to the "apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." So my question is this: what are the non-negotiables of worship? When God's people gather, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to renew the convenant of grace in Christ Jesus, what stuff do we do? What actions do we perform that are non-negotiable? If we gather to worship and never hear a sermon, is it worship? If we don't break bread at the table, have we worshipped? If we don't pray., or sing... You get the idea. What do you think? Post your comments.
A Book of the Names of the Dead is a very meaningful ritual for All Saints Day. Find a large beautifully bound book with blank pages. Sentences of scripture related to saints and the resurrection might be written in the margins. Or, you can purchase this book from Liturgy Training Publications. A few weeks before All Saints Day, place the book in the church and invite people to write the names of loved ones they wish to remember. Read the names aloud during the distribution of communion at your All Saints Day service. This ritual reminds us that one aspect of the Lord's Supper is the communion with all the saints. When we eat and drink, we dine with our loved ones and all the saints who have gone before us. Instead of reading the names during communion distribution, you could included the names in the prayers or read them at the font in connection with baptismal remembrance.
Each year we come to the end of October and the planning calendar reminds us that “Daylight Savings Time ends”! But more importantly the calendar will also remind us that the last Sunday in October is “Reformation Sunday”. However, a closer look will reveal that October 31 is “Reformation Day” (not Halloween on the Church calendar) and November 1st is “All Saints’ Day”. What is a church to celebrate? This year “Reformation Sunday is October 29th” and the next Sunday is not All Saints but “Christian and Citizen” Sunday. Of course, in a perfect world, we would celebrate the Reformation on October 31st and All Saints on November 1st. However, it is not always easy to get people to come to church during the week (as we observe during Holy Week). I admit, Christmas is an exception, but then again even the culture has consumed this holiday!