Building the Body of Christ through Renewed Worship (Part 4)
By Cynthia Wilson
Part four of a five-part series for worship leaders.
"Do this in remembrance of me."
Thanksgiving and Communion
1.) The Great Thanksgiving helps us to make sense of our own brokenness and humiliation in a sin-filled world. The Christ story stands at the very center of all Christian liturgies, while forging a path to the margins of society. By repeatedly remembering and rehearsing the crucifixion and resurrection stories alongside life’s themes of joy and sorrow, presence and absence, inclusion and exclusion, we come to understand how to negotiate the tension between suffering and salvation.
At the table of the Lord’s Supper the story continues by remembering our Triune God first as Creator, the Alpha and Omega. This is a recapitulation of the opening words for worship, the Psalm and the hymn of response to the interactive word. I have deliberately chosen this version of the Great Thanksgiving because of the ways in which the writers have essentialized the presence of women from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament.
As an example of how constancy and diversity can be wed, the traditional texts in the musical responses are creatively set to a more contemporary gospel genre. Other suggested settings have been included though the choices are endless.
2.) The prayer of Jesus (Lord’s Prayer) has been named as such in order to demonstrate how traditional language can be made inclusive (see Worship Language Guidelines). Keep in mind that for some, to name Christ as “Lord” gestures back toward feudalism which raises the issue of classicism for so many in this country. The congregation can also be invited to pray aloud in the language nearest to their hearts. To do so can emulate the Pentecost experience as described in Acts 2.
3.) The breaking of the bread provides yet another compelling visual for diversity. Jesus has invited everyone to the feast. So much like in the Acts 2 account, when the early church is said to have “continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46a), the table may be set with breads from different cultures. This can be an effective visual metaphor for the spirit of hospitality. Do not forget to include gluten-free bread.
For Annual Conference services there are several possibilities for serving teams:
- Women and children
- Youth and District Superintendents
- All women (every age and stature)
- Two persons confined to wheel chairs
Can you think of others?
4.) During the sharing of the bread and cup, all servers will come forward to receive the bread and cup. As much as possible, the stations will coincide with the four cardinal directions as used by the dancers during the Gathering.
Annual conference venues tend to vary according to geographic locations. You are encouraged to use as much of the worship space as possible while establishing an atmosphere of welcome and intimacy. Be mindful of the length of aisles and accessibility to stations.
5.) Communion music should help to establish an atmosphere that encourages and inspires the enthusiastic participation of every person present. Keep in mind that music can efficaciously create connections in multicultural, multiracial, multigenerational settings.
If hymnals are not being used, lyrics can be projected or printed in the worship order. Take care to obtain the appropriate license for each song.
6.) The prayer of thanksgiving functions as one final acknowledgment that the congregation has heard the call from God through Christ, and all have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out that call in the world. This prayer suggests that the people have tasted and seen the goodness of Christ. Once again we can see the connection with the past: “They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46b-47a); and the anticipation of the future: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b) Annual conference mission teams might be prepared to help fortify existing community ministries that address women’s issues by taking an offering or even launching new efforts in areas where specific needs have been identified through local churches.
7.) Song of victory (closing song) is meant to be a rallying cry to go forth into the world to share the good news of the gospel. The text should express the following:
- We have been in the presence of God.
- Together, as the Body of Christ, we have feasted on the liberating, redemptive Word of God.
- We are the embodiment of the Word.
- We have been empowered by the Spirit to carry this Word into the world.
- With new eyes to see, ears to hear, new feet to walk, run and dance, we are a new creation.
Ultimately, the goal has been to create a path to the paschal mystery. This is a sign of incarnational worship. That is, the Word made flesh or life wedded to worship. And so, in the words of the Psalmist: “It is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.” (Ps. 147: 1b)
If the space in which worship is held lends itself to creating a large circle, the worship team, or their designees, might lead the congregation in a circle of dance during the singing of the closing song. This choreography can serve as a symbol of the reverse of the opening movement: from the center back to the margins. Of course, the decision to include this movement would necessitate choosing music that is either familiar or done as call and response. Worshipers are then more able to sing and move about freely.