We have gathered from our various places. Most of us come from home, but a few come from work or some other place, and we are gathered to seek God and to offer him worship worthy of who He is.
And we have prayed that He might “cleanse our hearts” so as to make us able to offer Him this worship.
Having offered ourselves, we begin the process of preparing for worship.
You thought that prayer was the preparation! Well, actually, so did I for ages and ages. I knew there were two different pieces to the liturgy. One we call the “liturgy of the Word.” That’s the first part. Then there’s the “liturgy of the Table.” That’s the Communion part. I sort of knew that one was needed to come before the other, but no one could explain why. It’s all liturgy. And preparation? That was the prayer we said before we started. After that, it’s all worship of one sort or another. There’s worship through the liturgy of the Word, and worship through the Liturgy of the Table.
But it’s not all worship.
We have presented ourselves to God, and asked for help in rendering true worship, worship in Spirit and in Truth.
And the first half of the “liturgy” is God’s response to that request.
I know. I know. All the liturgy wonks you know will tell you that “liturgy” comes from two Greek words basically meaning “the work of the people.” So, how can this be God’s response to our request?
Well, it’s a little unfortunate that the church took on a secular Greek word from the Empire to describe the process of approaching God in worship. I guess that’s the kind of thing you can expect when you allow an emperor whose kingdom is disintegrating to use the Body of Christ (the true church) to try to unify everyone again. (That’s pretty much what Constantine was up to when he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire.)
Still, just because we’re stuck with that word doesn’t make it true. Liturgy is only the people’s work to the extent that it is something God does IN us and THROUGH us. We are unable, of ourselves, to offer true worship.
We have asked God to work His work in us so that we might enjoy Him in Himself and then be transformed in having met Him, and He begins the process of moving us into His own heart with praise. That is the first element in the service after the “Collect for Purity.”
Most of us in the Episcopal church just think that the “Gloria” is next. That’s because most of us rarely said or sang anything in that spot other than the Gloria. (Or the Trisagion or Kyrie in Lent…)
But that’s not what’s next. What’s next is the “Song of Praise.” (The Prayer Book says it this way, “When appointed, the following hymn or some other song of praise is sung or said, all standing…”)
That can be the Gloria, or it can be the Benedictus, or the Song of the Three Young Men, or it can be some other song of praise, but it isn’t necessarily the Gloria.
What matters is that God starts us off with praise.
Praise will persist through the first half of the service, growing more and more inviting and personal, but praise persists until we get to the place of self-offering (symbolized by the Offertory). From that point on, “worship” is a better word to characterize what’s going on.
I bet all you “traditional” Episcopalians didn’t know you were into Praise and Worship!
We start, though, with the most basic kind of praise. This basic form is singing or talking “about” God, and His greatness or mercy or whatever.
Praise consists of declarations of God’s Goodness. This declaration of His Goodness puts the enemy to flight, and creates a safe space in which to proceed to worship. We don’t sing about how good we are to separate ourselves from the things that might trouble us, that might weigh us down and prevent us from entering into worship, we sing about how Good He is.
Praise that creates this space is pretty raucous. We are still near the “door” through which we entered, and the “noise” of the world is still ringing in our ears. We sing pretty loudly at this point, in part to drown out the noises that try to follow us into the sanctuary, and in part to declare the “truth” to the principalities and powers, the truth that the victory is already God’s, and there is no place for them here. (“Truth” being the first bit of the “whole armor of God” from the sixth chapter of Ephesians…)
This is not a time to get all meditative and “quiet.” We may or may not get to quiet (depending on what the Lord has in store for us that day), but here, at the beginning, we engage in PRAISE.
“Our God is Good, and His mercy endures forever!”
“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!”
“Our God reigns!”
These are declarations of praise. Declarations about God.
Gradually, as we move toward worship, our praise will shift. We will sing less about Him than to Him.
But that’s for the weeks to come.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)
Shout for joy! Shout for joy! Shout for joy all your righteous! Raise up to God a holy shout of praise!