Sermon Series: Reflection on what we do in worship and why; part 1

Easter is a season to celebrate how we are the body of Christ, the Church. To that end Sean and I are going to repeat a five part series offered last year, reflecting on worship. We are going to take apart the service and consider sections of it and discuss why we do what we do.

The very first thing we do is to gather as a community. Although Christ Church is located in Dearborn, we know that we arrive here from many neighborhoods as well as other towns, near and far. Some of us come every week, others come less frequently, and some are visiting for the first time today. Carolyn spoke of the doorway of the church representing a place of transition from the ordinary world of work and worries to a sacred space of prayer and hope. No other space in our world today offers us this kind of transition and sacred space.

We all come from different home environments with different needs and hopes. In the Episcopal Church we recognize that we all come from different places with different understandings of life and faith – BUT we find our commonality in prayer and worship. That is why our prayer book is called The Book of Common Prayer. Our prayers and worship are intended to bring us together. Here at Christ Church we make an intentional effort to ground our coming together in the theology of hospitality.

A theology of hospitality means we make the same effort to extend a friendly welcome to everyone: people who are visiting for a day; those who are new to the church; and those we have known for many years. Hospitality is an attitude of the heart, one that engages us in the hope of the resurrection. God is always seeking a pathway into human lives. Acts of hospitality open us to the possibility of God acting through us as we take the risk to be hospitable.

In the hour before church begins, (the choir rehearses and) the altar guild sets the altar, these are signs of the community preparing for worship.

The altar guild is one of our most important ministries. We have several teams of women, men, and young adults who come early to set up the altar for our worship. They prepare the vessels, the wine, wafers, and bread. They light the candles, and set out worship bulletins, and clean up afterward. Their work is ordinary, as one person said; “It’s just setting a table and washing dishes,” which is correct. Aside from learning the technical names of items and their placement, it is not hard work. It is, however sacred work, caring for Christ’s table.

Once everything is prepared Sean plays a Prelude. Like the doorway, the Prelude helps us in the transition from ordinary life to worship time and sets the stage for sacred space.

(Sean speaks about prelude)…

Music can express many different emotions and set many different moods.  Word and Music are integrating in the services of the Episcopal Church and of many other mainline denominations. 

The Prelude is an important way in which the mood is set.  As people gather and the space is prepared for worship, I almost always play a prelude.  Sometimes preludes are based on hymns such as the famous organ collection The Orgelbuchlein by J.S. Bach.  Sometimes, I chose to play a  free composition or conduct ensemble music by instrumentalists or a small singing group. 

I will play two contrasting examples of a prelude.  The first is appropriate for Lent – O Lamb of God BWV 619 by J.S. Bach.  The second selection will be a free composition appropriate for any season Allegro in G by John Stanley, an 18th century English organist and composer.

Following the Prelude the priest offers a welcoming prayer. It is a tradition for the priest to pray with the altar party prior to beginning worship. At Christ Church, due to the logistics of our worship space and our preparations for the procession, this prayer is said with the entire gathered congregation. The congregation is invited to stand as a symbol of participating in this opening prayer. For us this prayer has become a prayer that welcomes everyone to our worship and sets the stage for hospitality. In the season of Lent we sang a gathering song instead of saying this prayer.

After the prayer the altar party lines up: lead cross and torches followed by choir, second cross followed by altar party. As we sing the first verse the lead cross begins the procession.

The Liturgy of the Word begins the first of two segments of our normal Sunday worship. The second segment is the Liturgy of the Table, the Holy Eucharist. Originating in early Jewish synagogue services, the Liturgy of the Word is comprised of prayers, readings, and songs of praise.

The Liturgy of the Word formally begins with the “Opening Acclamation” which is a dialogue between priest and congregation. In the season of Easter this is “Alleluia Christ is Risen.” People respond, “The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!” Then follows the Collect for Purity.

The Collect for Purity became part of Holy Eucharist in the Church of England with the first Book of Common Prayer in 1552. It was included in the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer in 1789.

Following the Collect for Purity we say, at 8am, the Gloria. At the 10am service we sing a Hymn of Praise. Sometimes the hymn of praise is the Gloria, but the Book of Common Prayer provides the option to eliminate this or sing another hymn of praise. Instead of a hymn of praise, in Advent we say or sing the Trisagion and during Lent we sing or say the Kyrie. You can find these on page 356 of the BCP.

(Sean add something to this section)

This musical piece is one of the five main portions of the Ordinary of the service (parts that occur each week).  In the early church they were sung in Latin but later in English, especially in the Anglican Church.  The text of the Gloria has been set in many famous concert Masses throughout history including those of Mozart, Beethoven, and Faure.   Simpler versions have been set for use in worship. 

Like the Prelude, and all the music, the mood or tone of the music helps to set the overall feeling of the service.  Our Service Music companion to The Hymnal 1982 has many options for the Gloria.  There are some more contemporary choices in our hymnal supplement Wonder, Love and Praise.  Although Terri and I may chose different setting of these music pieces for the Ordinary, we consider how these pieces will work as a whole in the service and how they work with the theme of the season and the day.  At Christ Church, we have used Carl Haywood’s Glory to God from his Mass for Grace.  I will play the opening.

Although we pronounce it differently, the word Collect means the same as it would in normal parlance. The idea is that we are “collecting” the thoughts, hopes, and prayers of the congregation into one. Collects begin on page 159 in the red Book of Common Prayer and run for over 100 pages. We have a collect for every Sunday, special feast days of certain saints and high holy days like Christmas.

Next week we will reflect on the remaining portions of the Liturgy of the Word – scripture, sermon, Nicene Creed, and Prayers of the People.

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2 thoughts on “Sermon Series: Reflection on what we do in worship and why; part 1

  1. Curate Maryjane and Sean Jackman offered the first part of this series. This is the third year we have offered this sermon series in the Easter Season.

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