We’re pausing in the Old Testament for a moment this week to spend some more time thinking about the most important work of the church: worship. A couple weeks ago we spent some time looking at the Psalms and songs, and the most frequent theme and topic of the psalms is our worship of God.
Just look at a passage like Psalm 96:1-9 and see how frequently it calls God’s people to praise, proclaim, announce, and rejoice.
Throughout the Old Testament we have many examples of how God’s people worship and overwhelmingly worship involves three things: remembering who God is, proclaiming what God has done, and responding to God with our love and service. You can see this pattern in how we worship here at Bethlehem Covenant. At both the contemporary and classic worship services we follow a “four-fold” pattern of worship every Sunday: Gathering, Word, Response, and Sending. Take a look at one of our worship bulletins and notice what is involved in each.
- Gathering is a kind of preparation for worship. We listen to a prelude or sing a gathering song, we are welcomed into the church, we welcome others into worship by passing the peace, we announce our purpose for worship, and we pray that God will be glorified in our worship. We proclaim what God has done and open our hearts in love towards God. This often involves singing and praying.
- Word is when we hear about what God has done. This includes our scripture readings from the Bible, a Children’s message, and the sermon.
- Response is what we do with the Word. We pray, we share an offering, take communion, recite a creed, or reflect on the scripture.
- Sending We are given a charge and a sending to leave church to keep serving God in the world. Worship doesn’t end when the service ends, we go out with God’s love in our hearts with the intention to share it with others.
For Protestant Christians especially, we tend to think of worship mostly in terms of what we speak, say, and hear. But throughout the Bible and throughout Christian history worship has involved all the senses of taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell.
We taste the bread and cup at communion. We touch the water at our baptism (and can touch the water anytime to remember our baptism), we pass the peace to show our love and kindness to one another, or we fold or raise our hands in prayer or praise. We see things like crosses, candles, stained glass, or the banners and vestments. We hear music and speaking, readings and prayers. Some churches use things like incense for aroma, which we rarely do at Bethlehem, but on days like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday we’ll sometimes smell Myrrh to be reminded of the anointing of Jesus body.
The shape and content of our worship follows a specific calendar, sometimes called “the seasons of the church” or “the church year”. Unlike our regular calendar that measures 12 months from January to June, the church calendar tells the story of Christ every year through seasons and holidays (holiday literally means “Holy Day”). It begins with Advent, a time to remember the waiting and longing people had for a savior, as well as our own hope for Jesus’ return. Then comes Christmas, not just a day on December 25th, but a joyous 12 day festival that goes till January 5th to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus–God with us. The season of Epiphany begins on January 6th, by remembering the story of the Magi visiting Jesus, led by a star. Then for 4-6 weeks after Epiphany we focus on the life and teachings of Jesus until Lent, a more somber 40 days to remember the suffering and death of Jesus, capped by Holy Week that retells the final days of Jesus life on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. The highest holiday of the year is Easter, the celebration that Jesus did not stay dead but rose after three days in the grave. The season of Easter lasts another 50 days until Pentecost: when we remember that God sent his Holy Spirit to create the church that would continue to proclaim the good news of Jesus. After Pentecost is a season sometimes called ordinary time, which is the longest period of the church year and is focused on attending our spiritual growth, to grow more Christlike by God’s Spirit within us. Towards the end of ordinary time comes festival days like All-Saints Sunday (remembering those who have died and are now with God) and Christ the King Sunday (a culmination of the church year, a bit like “new years eve”).
The church calendar comes with corresponding colors for each season. You’ll see these colors in the pastor’s stole, the banners and paraments, the bulletin, and even in the background of the screen where we project words at the early service.
Each season has a different “feel” or “tone”. Easter and Christmas are joyful and festive seasons, Advent and Lent are more restrained and reflective, and the “ordinary times” after Pentecost and Epiphany are meant to be more balanced in their emphasis on learning and growing.
There is a lot that goes into our worship of God, much more than just singing, listening, and praying. Next time you are at worship, take notice of the things you see, touch, taste, smell, and hear. The purpose of all of those things is to help you remember who God is, what God has done, and to prompt you to respond to his activity with your own love and service.
Journaling Questions this Week
- What did Solomon want from God?
- In your own words, define what “Wisdom” is.
- What kind of things in life do you want that might make you happy?
- Who are the happiest people you know? What do you think makes them happy?