This post will focus on the part of worship that comes right after the sermon or message. Traditional liturgies include several gifts in this section that allow us to respond to hearing God’s Word. These are often left out of simplified modern worship orders.
1) The Hymn (or Song) of the Day. This is a song chosen for that day’s worship specifically to work alongside the sermon or message. It allows the assembly to respond corporately to the Word of God that they have just heard proclaimed, and even allows them to participate in its proclamation. Ideally the assembly is invited to stand and sing, without having to do anything else (dig in purses/wallet for an offering, etc) simultaneously. Hopefully the song is chosen in partnership with the preacher, to ensure that it adequately captures the theme of the sermon and/or an appropriate response.
So take my heart and form it/Take my mind transform it/Take my will conform it/To yours, to yours O Lord
2) The prayers are another way in which the assembly responds to the Word in traditional liturgy. Having received God’s grace, we then pray for ourselves, for others, for the world, and for all of creation. This broad focus of our prayers helps keep our faith from becoming overly individualistic and consumeristic, as it so easily can in our culture.
3) Many traditional liturgies follow the prayers with a passing of peace, where members of the assembly greet and bless one another with the peace of Christ. In most churches today this is simply a time of greeting, which certainly serves a function in itself. But originally this was a time for reconciliation between members in preparation for receiving the bread and wine of Communion, along the lines of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:24.
4) The offering is probably the most common way that congregations respond to receiving God’s Word. Hopefully this act is placed in the context of good stewardship teaching, as one aspect of living our lives as stewards of God’s gifts, rather than being interpreted as a payment for services received. Boxes in the back of the worship space and online giving (even using a smart phone on the spot) are two of the ways some churches have chosen to adapt this practice to context. Many churches also inform visitors that they are not expected to participate in the offering – “we’re just glad you’re here!” Musically, this is often a spot where a specially prepared piece is offered. For congregational singing, I enjoy Chris Tomlin’s remake of “Take My Life” by Frances R. Havergal, which is also great with a faster tempo. It captures the spirit of offering not just our money, but our lives for God’s service.
This leads us to the greatest gift of all in historic liturgy—Holy Communion, which I will address in another post.