Mutual Encounter

Worship [is] an event in which God encounters God’s people and there is a communication, a mutual gift exchange, and a fellowship between persons.

—Adam Perez, “Just What is an Order of Worship?” in Lester Ruth et al., Flow: The Ancient Way to do Contemporary Worship, 30-31

Plan Ahead

All short and clear forms of communication, whether written or spoken, are planned ahead. Mark Twain supposedly wrote to a friend, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” This principle of brevity applies to transitions in worship, too. To create a signpost that succinctly connects the previous element of worship with the following one, the worship leader needs to plan it in advance.

—Glenn Stallsmith, “Spoken Flow: What Gets Said” in Lester Ruth et al., Flow: The Ancient Way to do Contemporary Worship, 70

Private Worship

Public worship, you see, is impossible except against a background of private worship. And in so many ways, the quality of our worship when we are together will be a reflection of the quality of our worship when we are alone.

And so often the secret of failure in public worship is failure in secret, in our faithful attendance on the private means of grace, because the public ministry of the Word, vital as it is, is never a substitute for the private reading of it. Public waiting upon God to gather us as people, which is the place . . . where God is pleased to manifest Himself, is never a substitute for private waiting upon God in the secret of our own soul.

And if you do not regularly bow before God in private worship and adoration, you will find it a strange thing to do so with other people on the Lord’s day. It is as simple as that. This is why, in the general sense and the broad term, faithful attendance on the private means of grace is of the very essence of preparing ourselves for worship.

—Eric Alexander, sermon #5 on John 4 (

Filling the Mind, Enlarging the Soul

Enlarge your soul with the glories of God by filling your mind with thoughts of His greatness as you bow together with His people; enlarge your soul with His love and goodness and mercy and ask, Where am I? I am in the presence of the eternal God and under His smile. Where ought I to be? I ought to be under His judgment and banished from Him forever. What shall I do? Why, I shall say, what shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. 

—Puritan writer

Enemies of True Worship

Let me ask you a question: What are the two great enemies of true worship throughout the whole of history? What do you think are the two great enemies of true and acceptable worship through the whole of history? Are they not the errors of Gerizim on the one hand and Jerusalem on the other? Zeal without knowledge on the one hand, and knowledge without zeal on the other; sincerity without truth, or truth without heart, in worship.

—Eric Alexander, sermon on John 4


Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing His praise
      Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
      With Him mayst rise:
That, as His death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
      With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound His name,
      Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
      Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied
      And multiplied;
O let Thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with His sweet art.

—George Herbert , “Easter” (1633)

Holy Saturday

Today a grave holds Him
who holds creation in the palm of His hand.
A stone covers Him
who covers with glory the heavens.
Life is asleep and hell trembles,
and Adam is freed from his chains.
Glory to Your saving work,
by which You have done all things!
You have given us eternal rest,
Your holy resurrection from the dead.

——from a matins hymn for Holy Saturday (Orthodox Church)

The Lord of Life Is Dead

Tread softly around the cross, for Jesus is dead. Repeat the refrain in hushed and softened tones: the Lord of life is dead.

The infuriated mob that cried for His crucifixion gradually disperses; He is dead.

And the passersby who stop just to see Him go on their way; He is dead.

The Pharisees, rubbing their hands in self-congratulation, go back to the city; He is dead. 

The centurion assigned the task of executing Him makes his official report to the Roman procurator, “He is dead.” 

And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus of the Sanhedrin go personally to Pontius Pilate and beg of the Roman governor His body, because He is dead. 

Mary His mother and the women with her are bowed in sobs and in tears; He is dead.  

And the eleven apostles, like frightened sheep, crawl into eleven shadows to hide, and they cry, “He is dead!” 

Wherever His disciples meet, in an upper room, or on a lonely road, or behind closed doors, or in hiding places, the same refrain is sadly heard, “He is dead. He is in a tomb; they have sealed the grave and set a guard; He is dead.”

Simon Peter, the rock, is a rock no longer.

And James and John, the sons of thunder, are sons of thunder no longer.

And Simon the Zealot is a zealot no longer.

He is dead, and the hope of the world has perished with Him.

But Sunday….is….coming.

—W. A. Criswell

Why is Good Friday Good?

Although Catholics and Protestant in the past have followed somewhat different forms, in both camps the observances have been such as to cause people to ask, “Then why do we call this Friday ‘good’?” Emphasis has been on the seemingly senseless suffering of Jesus rather than on the purposeful humiliation of God through which redemption comes. In other words, we have failed once again to read the sacred story backward. Friday has been observed as if Sunday had never come.

Good Friday can and should proclaim divine purpose as paramount. Indeed, the term “Good Friday” may be a corruption of the English phrase “God’s Friday.” This day is good precisely because God was in control at Calvary. The crucifixion of Jesus was not some bad deal that God had to try to make the best of; it was a working out of divine intention with a view to the salvation of an otherwise doomed creation.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,  96

A Holy Expectancy

We worship with our sails raised, expecting great things of God, and enjoying, rather than engineering, a contagious spiritual energy. When worship is not about how hard we pray, how comprehensively we confess, how beautifully we sing, how much water is used at the Easter Vigil baptism, or how carefully we follow a rulebook. When instead it is about how open we can try to be to the Spirit’s power, recognizing that the Spirit can work with forms and patterns, norms and names, but is not bound by them—then we can worship with a kind of holy expectancy.

—Ronald Andrew Rienstra, Church at Church: Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s Liturgical Ecclesiology, Location 2737

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through a belief in the Threeness,

Through confession of the Oneness

Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,

Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,

Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,

Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of cherubim,

In obedience of angels,

In service of archangels,

In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In the prayers of patriarchs,

In preachings of the apostles,

In faiths of confessors,

In innocence of virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven;

Light of the sun,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of the wind,

Depth of the sea,

Stability of the earth,

Firmness of the rock.

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me;

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s hosts to save me

From snares of the devil,

From temptations of vices,

From every one who desires me ill,

Afar and anear,

Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,

Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,

Against incantations of false prophets,

Against black laws of pagandom,

Against false laws of heretics,

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye that sees me,

Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through a belief in the Threeness,

Through a confession of the Oneness

Of the Creator of creation.

Divine Help

The Spirit can and does work in less than ideal circumstances. . . . God is in the salvage business. . . . Jesus Christ takes all our warbly singing and halfhearted praying and distracted listening and thoughtless communing, and perfects them all in His perfect priesthood. Then, the worship we offer is much more than just “good.”

—Ronald Andrew Rienstra, Church at Church: Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s Liturgical Ecclesiology, Location 2743

Particularity Encouraged

Pentecost is sometimes spoken of as the ‘reversal’ of Babel, a return to one language.  In fact, the crowds heard the disciples in their own tongues (Acts 2:6).  There is no suppression of cultural diversity; quite the opposite.  The coming of the Spirit means particularity is preserved and indeed encouraged, as Paul’s vision of the Spirit-directed Church makes clear (1 Corinthians 12).  This is rooted in the person and work of Christ: in him, our humanity (and provisionally) the whole of creation, has been freed by the Spirit to be responsive to the Creator, but in such a way that humanity and the created order become more authentically themselves.  The Spirit’s work through us is to bring creation to praise its maker in such a way that both creation and our character as finite and contingent creatures are not disrupted but enabled to flourish.  Applied to the arts, this would mean that both an artist and the realities with which he or she engages become more fully themselves in their distinctive particularity.

—Jeremy Begbie, “Christ and the Cultures: Christianity and the Arts,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, 116

Formative Worship

By “formative,” I mean worship which does acknowledge where a congregation is at, but is also eager for a congregation to grow beyond where it is into something deeper.  The focus is on growth, discipleship, and sanctification—even when these words aren’t explicitly used.  The question that leaders in these congregations ask is not simply “What will connect with people?” but also “What kind of people are our liturgical practices forming us to be?”

—Ronald P. Byars, What Language Shall I Borrow?: The Bible and Christian Worship, xi-xii

Expressive vs. Formative

I used to think that the largest worship-related division among Protestant churches in the northern hemisphere was between worship in so-called traditional and contemporary styles.  One set of churches is filled with organ music, processing choirs, and robed pastors.  The other is filled with praise teams, drum sets, and pastors dressed in beachwear.  To be sure, that division remains significant, however much it is complicated by the thousand of churches whose worship is a kind of hybrid of the two, or whose worship resists easy categorization by style.  But I no longer think that this is the most significant division among congregations.  Another, more subtle division emerges over time as far more significant, I believe, for the health and well-being of both individual congregations and Christianity as a whole.  This is the divide between those churches that see worship as primarily expressive, and those that see it as primarily formative.

—Ronald P. Byars, What Language Shall I Borrow?: The Bible and Christian Worship, xi

Formative Choices

While hymns reveal what the Gospel means to their authors in some measure, and the choice of hymns in hymnals reflects both the judgements of the responsible editors and (where applicable) of their sponsoring Churches, the most influential factor is the choice made week by week by leaders of worship of the hymns to be sung in services, a choice which determines almost entirely which hymns will form the mind of each generation of congregants.

—David Tripp, “Hymnody and Liturgical Theology: Hymns as an Index of the Trinitarian Character of Worship in Some Western Christian Traditions,” The Forgotten Trinity: The BCC Study Commission on Trinitarian Doctrine Today (Kindle Location 3243)

Triune Praise

Father, in whom we live,
In whom we are, and move,
Glory and power and praise receive
Of Thy creating love.
Let all the angel-throng
Give thanks to God on high;
While earth repeats the joyful song,
And echoes to the sky.

Incarnate Deity,
Let all the ransomed race
Render in thanks their lives to Thee,
For Thy redeeming grace.
The grace to sinners showed
Ye heavenly choirs proclaim,
And cry: ‘Salvation to our God,
Salvation to the Lamb!’

Spirit of holiness,
all Thy saints adore
Thy sacred energy, and bless
Thy heart-renewing power.
Not angel-tongues can tell
Thy love’s ecstatic height,
The glorious joy unspeakable,
The beatific sight.

Eternal, triune Lord!
Let all the hosts above,
Let all the sons of men, record
And dwell upon Thy love.
When heaven and earth are fled
Before Thy glorious face,
Sing all the saints Thy love has made
Thine everlasting praise.

—Charles Wesley (1707–88)