Why Do We Use Liturgy? (Part 1)

At Redemption City, we use liturgy during our worship gatherings. What is a liturgy you ask?  A liturgy is simply a form according to which public worship is ordered. Liturgies are meant to shape what we love and desire and value, and every church has one. But our goal at RCC is to adorn the ordinary ministries of Word and sacrament by rightly positioning them within the full drama of God’s redeeming action. In other words, our liturgy is meant to tell a 16 story, and as we are immersed in that story, as we rehearse the gospel drama week after week, the story begins to shape what we love and desire and value. The liturgy we use at RCC is carefully written, examined, and placed within the flow of our gathering to mirror the story of God's relationship with His creation. It is divided into four chapters:

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This post is the first in a number of articles on why we use liturgy in our corporate gatherings every Sunday. But let's start first with the question, "what is liturgy?"

What is Our Liturgy?

The word liturgy means "the work of the people". It can be used to describe the way we respond to God in a corporate setting. The elements that make up the chapters of our liturgy are:

Chapter 1: Gathering

  • THE CALL TO WORSHIP: We begin the first chapter of our liturgy with the Call to Worship. As we are called to worship, it reminds us that, just as we were called into existence by our Creator, and called into new life in Christ, God is the gracious initiator here tonight. We have received a word of welcoming from the God who is active in worship and who wants us here.
  • PASSING OF THE PEACE: Having been welcomed by God, we now turn and welcome one another. Jesus Christ is our peace; in his flesh, he has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. Christ is the sure source of our peace. 
  • CONFESSION OF SINS: Having been called into God’s holy presence and greeted by his grace, we become aware of his holiness and our sinfulness and thus, will now be led into a time of confession. Confession is our communal practice whereby we come face-to-face with our sins of both commission and omission, with our disordered desires and our complicity in unjust systems. This call to confession week after week is a reminder of a crucial chapter of the gospel story, which heightens the sweetness of God’s grace toward us in Christ.
  • ASSURANCE OF PARDON: The Christian practice of confession is not a groveling pit or “worm theology,” a kind of spiritual punishment because there is never a moment of confession that isn’t immediately met with the announcement of the good news of forgiveness and absolution in Christ. The good news of forgiveness in Christ pushes back on the hopelessness and despair of a consumer gospel that can offer only goods and services, not true peace. 
  • THE PEOPLE'S PRAYER: The final step in the Gathering chapter of our liturgy is the People’s Prayer. Having confessed our sins, and having met that confession with the announcement of the good news of forgiveness and absolution in Christ, we hear our Savior’s words in the gospel of Matthew: “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” With grateful hearts, let us go to the Father, Son and Spirit to intercede on behalf of our church, neighbors, town and world.

Chapter 2: Listening

  • SCRIPTURE READING: We now enter into the Listening chapter of our liturgy, because we have been graciously called into the presence of a holy but forgiving God. This includes hearing God’s Words to us through scripture read. The importance of this element is summed up in our response. 
    • Leader: "This is the Word of the Lord" - a declaration as to what the Bible IS. 
    • People: "Praise be to God" - our joyful response to hearing God speak. 
  • PREACHING: The scripture reading is followed by the announcement of God's teaching and will for our lives, which is not a burdensome yoke we try to “keep” in order to earn our salvation— we’ve already been reminded that we are forgiven in Christ. Rather, the teaching is now received as that gift whereby God graciously invites us into ways of life that are for our good, that lead to flourishing. 

Chapter 3: Communing

  • PROFESSION OF FAITH & COMMUNIONThe story of our liturgy now culminates in our communing with God and with one another. We are invited to sit down for supper with the Creator of the universe, to dine with the King. But we are all invited to do so, which means we need to be reconciled to one another as well. Our communion with Christ spills over into communion as his body. There is a social, even political, reality enacted here: there are no box seats at this table, no reservations for VIPs, no filet mignon for those who can afford it while the rest eat crumbs from their table. The Lord’s Table is a leveling reality in a world of increasing inequalities, an enacted vision of Isaiah 25:6: “a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine”. This strange feast is the civic rite of another city, the city to whom, if we are in Christ our citizenship now resides— the Heavenly City of God— which is why it includes our pledge of allegiance, the Creed. In this communion our hearts are drawn into the very heart of God’s Triune life. Thus, in some ways the support beam of our liturgy is an ancient latin phrase, sursum corda: “Lift up your hearts.” In worship “we lift them up to the Lord.” The Lord’s Supper isn’t just a way to remember something that was accomplished in the past; it is a feast that nourishes our hearts. Here is an deeply personal meal that retains our deepest, most human hungers.

Chapter 4: Sending

  • BENEDICTIONHaving been invited into the very life of the Triune God— having been re-created in Christ, counseled by his Word, and nourished by the bread of life— we are then sent into the world to tend and till God’s good creation and to make disciples of every nation. The sending at the end of our worship gathering is a replay of the original commissioning of humanity as God’s image bearers because in Christ. And because of what God has done in our worship gathering, we can finally be the humans we were made to be. So we are sent out to inhabit the sanctuary of God’s creation as living, breathing “images” of God. We bear his image by carrying out our mission to cultivate creation and invite others to find their humanity in this Story as we join with him in the renewal of all things. As we conclude with this benediction , remember that is both a blessing and a charge to go, but to go in and with the presence of the Son, who will never leave us or forsake us— to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.