Concluding the nine-part series on Worship
THE BASIC FLOW OF SUNDAY WORSHIP is for Christians to gather in God’s presence, listen to His Word, share a meal in memory of Jesus, and then depart into the world to serve others in Christ’s name. This liturgical “flow” or shape contains the very means by which God speaks to us for our growth in holiness: Word and Meal.
At the heart of the Meal or Lords’ Supper is the “Great Thanksgiving” or Eucharistic Prayer. It begins with a three-fold dialogue: the minister and people bid God’s presence to be with each other (“The Lord be with you. And also with you.”); the assembly is exhorted to lift hearts and minds to God (“Lift up your hearts …); the minister asks for and receives permission to give thanks in the name of all (“Let us give thanks …”).
Then comes the preface, whose purpose is to share the story of salvation and thereby provide a reason for giving thanks. In some liturgical traditions, the preface will vary with the liturgical season, recalling different facets of Christ’s life and ministry. In the United Methodist Hymnal’s (UMH) Service of Word and Table I, the preface recounts sacred history from creation to the prophets.
The preface leads us into the sanctus (Latin, “holy”), which is the chief song of the Meal and the assembly’s response to the preface. The words are taken from Isaiah 6:3 and Matthew 21:9 (Psalm 118:25-26). “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord …” is our greeting of the risen Lord who meets us in the Meal.
Following the sanctus, there is more recalling of sacred history. In some traditions, there will be a complete recital of God’s gracious deeds starting from creation, while UMH’s prayer now tells the story of Jesus, the one “who comes in the name of the Lord”. The proclamation of Jesus’ life and ministry culminates with the words of institution (“On the night in which he gave himself up …”). During these words, the minister takes the bread and cup, not for some magical action, but to suggest that these things are being used according to Christ’s command and are the means of our receiving His saving promises. Because we are not imitating Christ’s actions, but giving thanks, it is preferable to break the bread later, as UMH directs.
The remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection leads the church to offer its praise and thanksgiving (UMH: “ … we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving …”). This section is known as the anamnesis (Greek, “remembrance”).
Either before or after the anamnesis (like UMH) the assembly sings or speaks the memorial acclamation “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again”, which summarises the church’s basic beliefs about Christ.
Then follows the invocation of the Holy Spirit or epiclesis (Greek, “the calling down”). We invite the Holy Spirit to come and make this communion a true sharing in the body and blood of Christ, for it is only by the power of God’s Spirit that this can happen. The Spirit-language of UMH is more suggestive of a change in the people rather than in the sacramental elements.
Continuing in the mode of petition, we pray for the “fruits of communion,” and in UMH that means unity within the church for the sake of its ministry to the world. The entire eucharistic prayer concludes with a trinitarian doxology, an ascription of praise to the Triune God.
But why do we give thanks by remembering salvation history rather than, say, praying for our worthy reception of communion? Here we might note that the church’s response to Jesus’ command to “do this …” includes the giving of thanks – just like He did.
Jewish prayers of thanksgiving traditionally recall the great things God has done in history, not because God needs to be reminded of these, but because our remembering these events before God is the right thing to do! When we praise or thank somebody, we recall the specific action that is praiseworthy: “Thank you for driving me to the airport.” “You did an excellent job compiling last month’s financial report.”
Furthermore, “thanksgiving” with its recollection of God’s saving deeds in history is how Christians receive God’s gifts. “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5). So in the Meal we offer a prayer of thanks for the gift of Christ who comes to us in His holy Supper.
Amen, come Lord Jesus!
The Rev Dr. Jeffrey Truscott, Lecturer in Worship and Liturgy at Trinity Theological College, is also the Chaplain of the college.
Ecumenical choir to present Handel’s ‘Messiah’
THE CELEBRATION CHORUS will mark its 12th year with a presentation of George Handel’s “Messiah” at the Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) Performing Arts Hall at Winstedt Road on Nov 25 at 6.30 pm. Led by its music director and professional conductor, Mr Tom Anderson, the 90-strong chorus and soloists will be accompanied by a full orchestra.
The group began in 2000 with a one-off show to mark the 250th anniversary of the death of composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Conceptualised by Dr Evelyn Lim, the pipe organ master of the Klais Pipe Organ at the Esplanade and a member of Wesley Methodist Church, the chorale, comprising 70 members from more than 30 churches, sang Bach’s “Magnificat” at Paya Lebar Methodist Church on Nov 26, 2000, the first Sunday of Advent that year.
The collaboration was a success, and Dr Lim was urged by chorus members to keep the group going. Receiving financial support from the Methodist School of Music, International Baptist Church and Bedok Lutheran Church, the Celebration Chorus went on to sing at the Esplanade Concert Hall and Victoria Concert Hall, and in several churches.
The group’s mission is “to draw together Christian musicians from all denominations of Singapore for the development of excellence in choral art, the promotion of meaningful worship, and the performance of sacred music to the glory of God and the edification of the Church”. It describes itself as an “ecumenical community chorus”.
Admission to the concert is free.