Loving the Liturgy
Posted by Andrew Cinnamond, 9 Jul 2020
In the light of current restrictions on singing in public worship, Andrew Cinnamond encourages churches to make more use of spoken liturgy.
Churches returning to physical services after the pandemic lock-down are having to be creative and adaptable under the present restrictions. With singing not allowed, many are re-discovering the benefits of using liturgy in our corporate worship. Is this something to be regretted, a backward step, or something to be grateful for? Here are some reasons to applaud the turning to liturgy again:
1. It teaches our heart
The Psalms are full of encouragements to store the knowledge and love of God in our hearts- ‘his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.’ (Ps 1: 2); ‘I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.’ (Ps 40: 8); ‘O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.’ (Ps 119: 97).
One way of storing the love of God in our hearts is through liturgy firmly grounded on the Word of God. The constant repetition, week in, week out, begins to seep into us, it is in our heart and mind as we live each day for Christ. Like scurvy sailors missing their Vitamin C, we risk our spiritual health by thinking we have moved beyond, for example, the Creeds, confessions and Lord’s Prayer. We can never take it for granted that even regular worshippers know and understand these fundamentals of worship.
In many parishes where there is little or no faithful preaching of the Word of God, biblical liturgy has been a great comfort and blessing to many. This is clearly not an ideal situation, but it is a simple reality that we should thank God that we have a deeply Scriptural and edifying Anglican liturgy.
2. It leaves room for the Holy Spirit
A set liturgy in worship does not mean dry and dusty, not open to the prompting and moving of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can move just as well in set forms as in extempore prayer and singing worship songs. Anglican Evangelicals have often noted that Dissenters who complain about a set liturgy usually have their own set forms, some written down, others not. Charles Simeon in his 1811 Cambridge University sermons on The Excellency of the Liturgy made this point very well, arguing ‘that forms of devotion are not evil in themselves’. Simeon pointed to Psalms used by the Israelites and the institution of the Lord’s Prayer. He also noted, ‘To lead the devotions of a congregation in extempore prayers is a work for which but few are qualified’. Christians of whatever denomination or affiliation generally have a pattern of worship to give some sense of order to their times of corporate worship. Liturgy provides a robust and flexible skeleton.
3. It weaves us together
In our Western culture the individual is king (or queen)- my wishes, my happiness, my success is what matters and trumps every other concern. Liturgy helps us to step back from that precipice and realise the great joy to be found in worshipping together with my sisters and brothers in Christ. It can be a means of bringing us together, participating in the great truths of the Christian faith. There is something very moving about confessing our sins together and hearing the words of God’s forgiveness in Christ pronounced- this is the Gospel! It is powerful when we recite together the time-honoured words of the Creeds. Liturgy can be the embodiment, spoken out loud, of our unity in Christ:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4: 4-6)
4. It tells us a story
Liturgies are designed with a spiritual flow or pattern in mind. They take us on a spiritual journey, telling us the story of the Gospel. There is a gathering together and welcome. There is a time of penitence and forgiveness. There is praise, prayer and intercession, a time to listen to the Word of God, affirm our common faith and then sent out into the world to serve and glorify God. The constituent parts may vary, but taken as a whole they help to give a fully-rounded, healthy spiritual diet. It is very easy just to focus on the things we like, but liturgy helps to discipline and fashion us into biblically- balanced, thoughtful disciples.
5. It opens up our Christian heritage
For many centuries the worship of God’s People has been primarily liturgical in form. The history of liturgy is the history of how Christians have prayerfully understood the Christian faith as revealed in the Scriptures. Many of the Church Fathers fought valiantly for the great truths of the Trinity and the full deity of Jesus. The Reformers helped us to go back to the original truths of Scripture, which had been obscured and unhelpfully added to over many years. Too often, medieval worship focussing on the Mass was a passive spectator event. The vernacular liturgies of the Reformation, including our own Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England, are testimony to the primacy of the Word of God in public worship. The Reformers understood the connection between correct theology and forms of worship that express that theology. There is such a rich treasure house of biblical spirituality waiting to be uncovered in the liturgies of the past. Many worshippers today are hungry for that sense of connectedness with the past and for being part of that great stream of Christian worship down through the ages. Many see the shallowness of our present culture and want something deeper, something better. Liturgy can help us do that.
6. It allows creativity
Imaginative use of liturgy can bring out often overlooked or forgotten truths from Scripture. In modern Anglican settings there is much scope for the imaginative use of creating liturgy from Scripture. We are all easily distracted. Liturgical responses help focus people’s attention, knowing when to come in at the right moment etc. They can aid a sense of involvement and cement the act of worshipping God together. Liturgy can help keep things fresh, building upon a teaching series, a season of the Church Calendar, or a significant national or local event.
In a recent sermon series going through the book of Daniel we used material from the Bible readings in our liturgy. The liturgy and the sermon are therefore working together, reinforcing precious truths in people’s minds. Here are a few examples.
i. Part of an opening prayer from Daniel 6:
For he is the living God and he endures forever
his kingdom will not be destroyed his dominion will never end.
He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth
He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.
ii. Part of a closing prayer from Daniel 7:
I looked and there before me was one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven.
And He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.
To the Son of Man was given by the Ancient of Days:
Authority, glory and sovereign power
That all peoples, nations, and languages should worship Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
iii. A confession from Daniel 9:
O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,
we have sinned and done wrong.
We have been wicked and have rebelled;
we have turned away from your commands and laws.
We have not listened to your servants the prophets,
who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;
we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets.
We have not sought the favour of the Lord our God
by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth.
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous,
but because of your great mercy.
Lord, listen! Lord, forgive!
Lord, hear and act!
For your sake, my God, do not delay,
because and your people bear your Name.
As churches return to physical services again, how are we to judge the quality of our worship? Is it the musical ability of a choir or worship band? Is it the numbers attending? Or, maybe is it the quality of the audio-visual system or the thrill people experience?
Perhaps we need to get beyond a more worldly analysis and think about enabling God’s People in worship ‘in Spirit and in truth’ (Jn 4: 24). Liturgy is never something to be slavishly followed, but it does offer a wonderfully rich and varied resource of biblically mandated truth. Used wisely and applied well in a local context, it can greatly help to build believers up in their faith and be a means by which we can glorify God together.
‘Anglican Foundations’ by Latimer Trust. A series of short books exploring different aspects of the Book of Common Prayer.
‘Worship by the Book’, ed. D A Carson, Zondervan (2002)
‘Reformation Worship’, ed. Jonathan Gibson & Mark Earngey, New Growth Press (2018)
‘The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction’, Brian Cimigs, OUP (2018)
‘The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography’, Alan Jacobs, Princeton Uni. Press (2013)
Andrew Cinnamond is the vicar of St. Lawrence Church, Lechlade
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