Thursday, 6 March 2014

Teaching Eucharist

There are lots of things that we do, without actually thinking why we do them.  This is particularly true when it comes to worship.  So to help my church understand what it is we do in worship, I have produced a 'Teaching Eucharist' (based on the Church of England Holy Communion Common Worship liturgy).  It is designed to be used as part of the service.  The items in Bold are the various different parts of the service, so you have an idea of the running order.  I've borrowed some of the material from other people, so I cannot claim it is all my own original work.

Welcome & Greeting

Good morning! There was once a guru, who every time he sat down to worship, his cat would get in the way and distract the worshippers. So the guru ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.
After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship.  But over time the worshippers forgot why the cat used to be tied up, so when the cat died, another cat was brought so that it could be duly tied during worship.  Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.
It is easy in worship to do things, but not know the reason why we do them.  So today’s service is going to be different, we are going to be talking about worship as well as doing it.

What is worship? 

Worship is something that we all do in many different ways, it is that which we offer to God, and therefore it’s not confined to Sunday mornings.  But worshipping together as the family of God, is probably the most important activity we do as Christians.

William Temple, the renowned archbishop of Canterbury, defined worship as quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God

So let’s begin our worship with an opening hymn, which helps focus our attention on the God we have come to worship. 

Opening Hymn

This morning, we have come together as a community to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The central act of Christian worship is the celebration of the Eucharist (the Greek word eucharistia simply means thanksgiving). It is also known as the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper, or the Mass.

But whatever name you call it, it is a Holy Meal at which Jesus is the host. Jesus has invited every one of us to come as his guests to eat and drink with him. It should be a joyful, exuberant celebration and a wonderful privilege, and it should be a foretaste of that great banquet in heaven to which we are invited.

Before the New Testament was written, or any of the creeds composed, Christians shared together in the Lord’s supper. As we share bread and wine together, we are reminded of what Jesus has done for us, and all humanity. 

The Eucharist was instituted on the eve of the Jewish Passover—the night our Lord was betrayed and the night before he was crucified. It was a family meal that was filled with fun as well as faith. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate images that has shaped our thinking about the Last Supper is Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting. Some may think it to be great art, but it is terrible theology and it is obvious that Leonardo never took part in a Jewish Passover. Let’s face it—it looks more like a middle aged men’s club than a joyful feast. There are no women or children present and no one looks very happy!

So erase that image and replace it with one of an exuberant family party with bread and wine, story telling, laughter and lots of music, where everyone participates.  Don’t forget, we are worshipping as a family, as a community, and so everyone is expected to participate.

Our service has two distinct parts: THE LITURGY OF THE WORD and the LITURGY OF THE SACRAMENT.

The first section of the service is the liturgy of the word. 

After our opening hymn, we move into a time of confession. 

Paul in Romans 3:10 writes ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.” And the Apostle John writes ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’  (1 John 1:8)

So as begin our worship we acknowledge our sins, and our need for God’s forgiveness.  We bring to mind the times when we have failed to love God and our neighbour as we should.  For the times when we have ignored God, and lived as if he did not exist.  We bring to God the things we have said and done that we want to say sorry for, as well as the missed opportunities to show God’s love during the past week. And together, using the words of the confession, we say sorry to God.

The Apostle John says that ‘If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9)  And so after the confession, comes the words of absolution, the promise of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. 

Confession & Absolution

Singing hymns and songs form an essential part of our worship, but why? 
  • Singing connects us to one another.  It’s an expression of our identity and our relationship with one another.
  • Singing impacts my mind. The lyrics of songs teach profound truths about God. Songs reinforce biblical values and are part of transforming our minds by moving our thoughts beyond ourselves to focus upon Jesus. 
  • Singing is a part of our sacrifice of praise Through it we express recognition and thanksgiving to our Creator and Redeemer.
  • Singing is a form of prayer The songs provide us with a vocabulary to express and explore who God is and to declare what He is doing in our lives.
  • Singing is tied to the promises of God God promises to show up in a special way when we gather in His name according to His purposes. He literally “indwells” the praises of His people. He promises to draw near to us as we draw near to Him.
  • Singing is something the Bible commands us to do  The Bible contains over 400 references to singing and 50 direct commands to sing, and in the New Testament we are commanded to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19Colossians 3:16).
  • Singing affects our emotions Music bypasses our mental filters and stirs our passion. It challenges us to arise from the depths of our emotional slumber and coldness, fanning the flames of our hearts to burn brightly for the Lord.
  • Worship through music is one of the few things that we know goes on in heaven It’s powerful enough to shake heaven’s very gates. Music accompanied many major events in the Bible. It led God’s people forward in battle. Even Jesus’ birth was announced through song, as will be His triumphant return. 

But the main reason we sing is for one very simple reason. God deserves our praise. 

We’ve just confessed our sins, and been reminded of God’s love and mercy, and in response to this we sing songs of praise and worship. 

CS Lewis said “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.”  It is for this reason that at this point in the service we often sing two or three songs to give us the freedom and space to abandon ourselves in the wonder of God, and to allow him to minister to us. 

During this time feel free to express your worship the way you want to.  If you want to move, and dance, and lift your hands in worship then that is fine, but if you’d prefer to be quiet and still that also is fine.  As you sing these songs, focus on the words that you are singing. 

So let’s continue our worship as we praise God in song.

Worship Songs

We now have the Collect or Prayer for the Day.  This prayer gets its name from the Latin word collecta. Originally it was a prayer at the start of the service, which would gather the people together for worship.  
Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”  Which is why after the Collect, we have our two Bible readings, which usually includes a reading from either the Old Testament or New Testament and a Gospel reading.
Sometimes we choose readings that focus on a particular theme or topic, and at other times we follow the lectionary, which is a three-year cycle of Bible readings, that enables us to hear most of the Bible over the three years and gives us a balanced diet from the Word of God.  

When it comes to the Gospel reading we normally stand, why? 
Different reasons are given, but one reason is because if a King or someone of significance entered our presence, we would stand as a sign of respect.  And so we stand for the Gospel reading, because we’re in the presence of our Lord.  We stand because we consider ourselves to be entering into conversation with Jesus. We are drawn into his life through his words and deeds in the Gospel.
Another practical reason why many people stand for the Gospel is because traditionally in many churches the Gospel is read in the middle of the nave, amongst the people, symbolic of Jesus coming amongst us.  And if you were sitting at the front of church, in order to see and hear the reader, you would need to turn around to face them, which involves standing up!
So let’s now listen to the word of God. 
Bible Readings

You will be relieved to know that I am not planning to preach a long sermon today, but I do want to spend a couple of minutes thinking about why preaching matters.

Jesus spent much of his ministry preaching and teaching, in the Temple, in synagogues, on mountain sides, in market places, wherever he may be.    

Preaching still has an extremely important role to play in worship.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a well-known preacher said “What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this: It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.”

Paul in Romans 8:29 tells us that the purpose of God is this “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”  God's purpose from the very beginning of time has been to make us like Jesus, to have the character of his son.  Therefore the goal of preaching is transformation, to impact and change lives, and produce Christ likeness in God’s people.

Preaching should open up the word of God, and point to Jesus.  If we want a vibrant, growing church, with Christian’s who are maturing in their faith, and who are committed to serving God in the world, we need good biblical preaching. 

We may not remember ever meal we eat, but every meal should nourish and strengthen us.  Likewise we won’t remember every sermon we hear, but hopefully every sermon will nourish and strengthen us.

When it comes to preaching, it is not only the person who speaks who has a responsibility to properly prepare, but also the listeners too.  Charles Spurgeon one of the greatest preachers ever to live, said “Which, do you think, needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-ploughed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher.”

So when you listen to a sermon don’t mentally switch off or start planning what you’re going to do with the rest of your day, but listen and engage with what is being said.  Pray that God will give you a pure open heart that hungers for his Word.  Have the Bible open in front of you, and take notes, because it keeps the listener alert and actively involved in the sermon, and helps us to retain what is being said.  It also enables you to go back to the passage of Scripture after the sermon and meditate and reflect on what has been said.  Seek to learn, not be entertained, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart.  And finally, apply thoroughly!  Remember movement in emotion is useless without movement in obedience.  Leave with at least one written point of application from the passage, and put it into practice! 

And last of all, please pray for those of us who preach, that we will be faithfully in the task of preaching, because it is a big responsibility.    

After we listen to the sermon, we respond by affirming our faith together in the words of the Creed.  We use different versions of the Creed, mostly drawn from Scripture, like our Creed today which is taken from Philippians 2.  Often the Creed begins with the words “We believe” to remind us that we are affirming the faith of the whole church. 

Then having just reaffirmed our trust, relationship and our commitment to God we move into a time of prayer, where we pray for God’s world, the Church, our community, each other and ourselves.  We call these prayers the intercessions, because we are interceding between the needs of our world and God.  The prayers are an expression of our belief that people, and the circumstances in the world that affect the human family, can be touched and changed through Jesus Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.



After the prayers, we move from the Liturgy of the Word, into the Liturgy of the Sacrament, which begins with the Peace. 

The peace is probably one of the most misunderstood parts of the service, often treated more as a half time intermission, and a chance to stretch legs and catch up with friends.  But it is a very ancient custom going back to the earliest days of the church. 

Jesus said  “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24)

The Peace is therefore intended to be a time for reconciliation, a time to demonstrate Christian love and acceptance with our sisters and brothers in Christ, before we gather together at the Lord’s table. So if you are holding something against your brother and sister in Christ, this is an opportunity to seek peace and reconciliation.  Whether we greet one another with a hand shake, hug or kiss is unimportant, what matters is our attitude. 

After the Peace comes the offertory hymn, where we bring the bread and wine forward for communion, and where we also take up our financial offerings.  The Bible reminds us that 'our' possessions are not really ours. God provides, and we are only stewards of what we have, that is why we often quote the words of 1 Chronicles 29:14, 'All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own do we give you.’  There is a joy in being able to give to God, in gratitude to all He has given us. 

So I invite you now to stand for the Peace.


Offertory Hymn

We come now to the Eucharistic Prayer, which in some churches is called the Great Thanksgiving, which is the climax of the service, in which we remember what happened at the Last Supper and Jesus’ instructions to “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

The prayer begins with a reminder that at this meal Jesus is our host, and that we are in his presence.  ‘The Lord is here, his Spirit is with us’.  Next comes the response ‘Lift up your hearts, we lift them to the Lord’.  This is called the Sursum Corda which literally means hearts lifted, and this response has been used in Christian worship from at least the 3rd century.

One of the high points of the Eucharistic prayer is the Sanctus, which is a hymn of timeless adoration to the holiness and glory of God. Holy, holy is the Lord. The Sanctus is the song of the Seraphim in Isaiah’s account of his vision of the Lord. 

We then pray for the Holy Spirit to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine so that they may be the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace given to us in the body and blood of Christ.

In the Eucharistic Prayer, there are four great actions which parallel what Jesus did at the Last Supper:
            1) We take the bread and wine
            2) We give thanks
            3) We break it
            4) And we share the bread and wine

We conclude this section of the liturgy with the Lord’s Prayer which reminds us that because of what God has done, we can now, with assurance, call Him “Our Father.” So let’s stand and begin.

Eucharistic Prayer

We have almost come to the end of our service.  And you are about to pray the most dangerous prayer in the entire liturgy! As we ask to be sent out to do the work that God has given us to do. This work will get us in trouble because it includes loving the unlovable, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, working for justice and peace and reflecting the life and light of Christ into a world that is filled with darkness. But this is our privilege and our joy. Then after we have sung one more hymn of praise we will be dismissed and go out into the world with God’s blessing, so that we can be about our ministry until we meet again. Let’s pray.

Prayer after Communion

Final Hymn


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