This is Part 4 of a four-part blog on the Liturgy at Emmaus. Last week, we looked at the Corporate and Private Confession, the Assurance of Pardon and the Song of Thanksgiving. This week we conclude our study by turning our attention to the Sermon, Communion, the final Song of Response and the Benediction.
Since the bulk of our time gathered is actually spent here, I hardly think it’s necessary to elaborate extensively on the purpose and centrality of the preaching event. I do think it’s important, however, to point out that the sermon is not just an act of worship for the preacher, it is an active demonstration of worship from the congregation as well. We are not merely passively listening while the pastor worships in front of us, we are actively submitting ourselves to the Word preached, and as such, are performing an act of worship. In this event, the pastor is reading, preaching and teaching the Scriptures, and in the act, he is standing as an ambassador of God, stewarding his message for his church. This means that to the degree the pastor is faithfully expositing the text, and to the degree he is faithfully communicating God’s will and God’s heart with his explanations and exhortations, God is speaking through him. As such, a tremendous amount of humility and reverence is required by the pastor (can you imagine a weightier responsibility than heralding God’s Word? There isn’t one!), but also by the congregation.
Communion is one of the clearest acts of obedience a Christian can participate in (1 Cor. 11:23-26, Matt. 26:26-28), and is one of two central signs a Christian can identify with as a Christian (baptism being the other). Communion is also a potent reenactment of the gospel; every broken piece of bread testifies to the broken body of Jesus, and every drop from the cup testifies to the shed blood of Jesus, and every person who consumes the bread and drink is a testimony to the saving work that Jesus accomplished at the cross.
So the essential elements of communion visually demonstrate the gospel, but also, the corporate act of communion depicts what the gospel does—namely, it creates the Church. Every time we take communion as an entire body, we are uniting ourselves around the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. Such a unifying act is a proclamation of what God has done in Christ; it declares, “This is what Christ’s body was broken for, this what Christ’s costly blood purchased; it purchased a Church.” Try to keep this in mind when you take communion next week. Often we’re tempted to make communion an ultra-personal time of introspection, but it’s a command that can only be carried out by a corporate body. You can’t take communion by yourself. So rather than going introspective, try to look up, and take note at what communion represents: each of those people who tear and dip and consume are trophies of God’s grace—each having his or her own distinct story—and they all collectively make a masterfully crafted mosaic. Often you will find individuals who may have nothing in common to speak of, save Jesus Christ, taking communion side-by-side, thereby testifying to the divine engineering; only God could build the Church, and when we take communion, we testify of this.
Lastly, when we take communion as a body, we are not only looking back at what Christ has done on the cross, and we are not only looking to the present at the Church God is building, we are also looking forward to heaven. This world, as it now stands, is not our home. We are looking forward to our heavenly homeland. Yet every local Church is like a heavenly embassy; gathering together on Sunday morning rightly feels a little bit like coming home. Yet such a gathering is marked with a hint of longing. We long for the day when our communion with one another isn’t merely a weekly visit on a heavenly embassy which exists in an alien country. Right now we gather weekly, but in that day we will worship in the presence of God forever. Right now we offer prayers and thanksgiving and intercession, and all of our rejoicing is co-opted with sorrow, but in that day King Jesus will wipe away every tear. Right now we eat (sometimes) stale bread and drink store-bought grape juice, but in that day we will celebrate the massive, cosmic, wedding feast of the Lamb! Communion aids us in this worshipful longing, in which we simultaneously enjoy God for what he has done, and look longingly and confidently for what God has promised to do.
Song of Response
The song of response is again, a logical step. Remember in my second post, I explained how worship is comprised of revelation and response. At this point of the service, we have just finished basking in the revelation of several Scripture readings, Scripture-filled songs, an exposition and proclamation of Scripture, and the visual proclamation of Scripture’s central message (the gospel, as seen in the act of taking communion); in other words, we are fat from gorging ourselves on revelation. Response, at this point, is almost demanded by our souls! So, in this last song, we gladly oblige that impulse.
In this last element, we conclude our services with an act of at least prayer and teaching (and often, if the benediction is directly from Scripture, we also fulfill the command for public Scripture reading). The benediction is both a challenge to obey the Word that has just been preached, and a petition to God for blessing in that endeavor. In the benediction, we ask for the grace of God to pursue godliness in in the coming week.
At Emmaus, we believe that the central message of the entire Bible is the Gospel. Thus, if we are truly subscribing to the Regulative Principle (the principle that insists on only including only that which Scripture commands for corporate worship) we will not only ensure that our services consist of prayer, song, reading Scripture, teaching/preaching Scripture and the ordinances (communion and baptism), if we are truly subscribing the Regulative Principle, we will do all of these things with a distinct emphasis on the centrality of the Gospel—a Gospel-tone will permeate; such an emphasis is what biblical fidelity looks like.
Thus, as you may have even noticed already, our liturgy loosely mirrors the gospel itself!
- Creation—in the beginning, God (call to worship)
- Fall—enter sin and its devastating effects (confession)
- Redemption—Christ comes, nailing sin to the cross and burying it in the grave! (assurance of pardon)
- Restoration—Christ is making all things new (song of thanksgiving/sermon)
- Consummation—we eagerly await the return of our Lord (communion)
In all of this, we want every person who participates in our liturgy to walk away deeply impressed by Jesus. This is why we say every week, “We want you to leave this place more in love with Jesus than when you walked in.” Those comments are simply cheap platitudes, they are the heartbeat of our Church, and the proof is in the why and how of our corporate worship.