Building the Body of Christ through Renewed Worship (Part 3)
By Cynthia Wilson
Part three of a five-part series for worship leaders.
". . . and the word became flesh and dwelt among them."
Proclamation and Response
1.) In choosing the scripture lessons, remember that the Triune God and God’s redemptive work in all of creation stands as the quintessential theme of worship. Therefore, it is critical that consideration be given to translation and interpretation of scripture. For the most part, the New Revised Standard Version is accurate and loyal to the biblical text, and is therefore used in this service of celebration.
Secondly, in order to demonstrate a cohesive, biblical foundation that again, connects the primary and secondary themes of General Conference and GCSRW, I have integrated the standard sequence of three scriptures. The Ecclesiastes passage from the Old Testament amply captures the notions of change and transitions in the Commission’s story. In the true spirit of Methodism, I have chosen to sing the Psalm (UMH) in order to once again call forth the voice of the corporate body. In addition to the rich metaphors about God as Creator, Liberator and Redeemer, the Psalmist reminds us that our God holds the past, present and future, and calls forth each and every season. The Psalmist underscores God’s concern and mandate for justice, healing and peace. You will note that I have replaced the language of “Lord” with God.
Since the dates of the 2012 General Conference coincide with the liturgical season of Pentecost, I have selected the Acts 2 text as the Epistle reading. It fitly denotes the season in which God’s people are gathered in one place, on one accord, and are imbued with the liberating power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Great Commission. Most importantly, in this passage we experience language that affirms the fact that Jesus’ commissioning process included women. "In the last days it will be, God declares that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18) Needless to say, the Acts 2 passage begins to dismantle a patriarchal, elitist system that has marginalized “certain” people. This metaphor captures the vocation of GCSRW in the church and the world over the last forty years. The Pentecost story enables the whole assembly to look back (Greek: anamnesis), to rejoice in the present (praise and thanksgiving), and to look ahead with an unfettered hope (the eschaton). Without a doubt, together, these three scriptural passages serve as biblical lenses for viewing the noteworthy journey of GCSRW. Although the Gospel reading is typically read before the Proclamation begins, in this worship service, it is shared as a part of the fifth witness. Yet, its message is intrinsically present throughout each movement of the worship celebration.
2.) Ministry of music (Seasons by Donald Lawrence). This song may be choreographed by liturgical dancers. The text summarizes the Ecclesiastes passage and prepares the soil for the seed of the Time of Witness (sermon).
3.) A time of witness (sermon) introduces and punctuates the central scriptural themes for the liturgy. One writer describes it this way, “The Word of God addresses human beings in revelatory scripture; the Word to God in worship expresses a human response; the Word about God in preaching bears witness to the encounter and invites participation in it.” In this sample service, each witness has been asked to include themes of justice, equality and liberation while drawing from the Great Commission text (Matthew 28:19-20).
4.) The response to the Word can include creeds, the Sacrament of Baptism, invitation to discipleship, recommitment/rededication to Christ, first commitment to Christ, silence, recognition of special ministries, etc. Since this is an anniversary celebration with Word and Table, I have selected a hymn text that speaks to the acts of remembrance, thanksgiving, and a revelatory vision of a new day! During the singing of final verse, the elements will be brought forward by the dancers. Once again, the tune is upbeat and familiar for most. Although the text may be less familiar, the element of repetition makes it easily singable.
5.) The invitation appropriately follows proclamation of the Word. In true Wesleyan spirit, the Service of Word and Table beckons to everyone present; children, baptized, unbaptized, members, non-members—honoring the fact that each person belongs at Christ’s table, irrespective of their place in life. Whatever their questions, gender, race, creed culture, spiritual or physical condition, Jesus bids all to “Come to the table of grace!” I have selected Matthew’s account of the Great Commission which is consistent with the ways in which his descriptions of Jesus punctuate particularism and universalism. For example, from the very first chapter (the genealogy of Jesus), Matthew makes the case for Jesus’ humanity and divinity, Son of God and son of humanity. Additionally, Matthew talks about how Jesus, though born a Jew, always includes the Gentile community, and how that same non-Jewish community offered him asylum and protection at birth. Most importantly, Matthew’s final chapter spotlights Jesus’ first post- resurrection gathering, with the women. Jesus gives them three directives: “Rejoice!”, “Fear not!”, “Go and tell my brethren!” So remarkably, in spite of the fact that the clarion call, “Go make disciples!” is not recorded until nine verses later after Jesus reunites with the male disciples. According to Matthew’s report, it is clear that the women were the first to be called and sent.
6.) This prayer of confession offers the worshipers an opportunity to acknowledge the many ways in which women have been excluded from the table of Christ historically. Note that only biblical scenarios are listed in this confession. The hope is that as these words are spoken out loud, individual sins of omission and commission are named within the hearts of each person present. You are encouraged to clearly articulate the ways in which your communities have been complicit with the marginalization of women as well as others. After naming what has not been done, then perhaps a covenant of commitment might be in order along with forums to openly discuss how your annual conference, districts and/or local churches can be more proactive about inclusive ministry both internally and externally. Celebrate the programs, events, and persons in districts and local churches that have positively impacted issues of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, hunger, illiteracy, etc. Offer these programs as examples of what can be done across the annual conference or in the local church community.
7.) The response is a Kyrie from Accra, Ghana. In the same spirit of the Dururu prayer chant, the whole assembly cries out to God, proclaiming their need for God’s mercy.
8.) The pardon once again declares that the power unleashed on the day of Pentecost is still operative in our lives and situations today. As the first century disciples prepared to go into the world, it was evident that they could not go on their own strength. So it is with twenty-first century Christians. It is the gracious pardon and revelatory power of the Holy Spirit that fills us anew, afresh, so that the work of worship can be done to the glory of God.
It is also important to acknowledge that no worship planning and/or execution can be efficacious without an initial time of meditation that includes confession and pardon.
9.) A response has been included to remind us that after we have accepted the invitation to Christ’s table, after we have confessed and have been pardoned, together, we go to the table with a spirit of praise and rejoicing. This Native American praise chorus can be found in UMH #78.
 Italics mine. Wainwright, Geoffrey. “The Praise of God in the Theological Reflection of the Church” in Dwight Vogel, ed., Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology: A Reader (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press/ A Pueblo Book, 2000) 112.