"From the Pulpit" - Reflections on the Weekly Texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church
42[The baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
Traditional or Contemporary Worship?
The text above is from our first reading this 4th Sunday in Easter. This Sunday is typically called "Good Shepherd Sunday" in all three years of the lectionary (reading) cycle of our texts. The gospel reading is from John's gospel, where Jesus uses imagery of sheep, shepherds, the gate, and such, giving his hearers an image of himself as the keeper of the gate...the protector of the sheep. Instead of using another image of Jesus as shepherd, as I often do this particular Sunday in the church year, I am drawn to our first reading from Acts - a continuation of Luke's gospel.
The apostles and others in the community are together. It's after the resurrection. For some, it's an unsettling time. Jesus was crucified and buried. Some have witnessed his resurrection - the women at the open tomb, Cleopas and others on the way home from Jerusalem after his death, and more. But for many, the jury is still out on whether or not Jesus was in fact raised from the dead. In the meantime, the apostles are preaching the good news of Jesus' resurrection, and people are curious, astounded, and more.
So on to the reading above. For decades now, we in the church often hear this - "So do you prefer traditional, or contemporary worship?" Contemporary worship, by most definitions, includes a more informal, less structured worship experience, with more contemporary musical offerings (non organ in most cases), maybe a praise band and some singers, fewer readings, a more in-depth sermon, and lots of music. Did I mention lots of music? While not always the case, you'd hear contemporary worship at larger, more non-denominational churches these days.
Well, count me in the "traditional worship" number. If you look closely at the reading in Acts for Sunday, you'll see the order of worship in the very earliest Christian churches (mostly meeting in people's homes, and sometimes in the temple - keep in mind that there were no "churches" as we know them today. Small, intimate gatherings, with one or more of the apostles as the leader, if you will. So let's look at the order of worship in these 1st century church settings.
Teaching and fellowship, breaking bread and the prayers. And then, listen to what happens next. Those who were able, were encouraged to sell their belongings, and share the proceeds with those in the community who had need. ANY who had need, be they church types or not. So the order of worship in the early church is just like our worship today in the 21st century:
People would GATHER, catching up on what's been going on in their lives. Then, they would turn to the WORD. The teaching by the apostles, reading from...wait for it...the Hebrew bible, the Old Testament (keep in mind that at this point there was no New Testament.) So they would have read from the Psalms, the prophets maybe, and other Old Testament literature, with a focus on Jesus as the risen Messiah. Then, they would share a MEAL (think some form of communion, like breaking bread and offering wine, etc.) Prayers would often follow - prayers for the community. Prayers for loved ones lost, etc. just like we do every Sunday. Following that, some sort of offering would take place, gathering what was available from those assembled, and seeing to it that what was collected went into the community, to those who had need. And then, after a lengthy gathering, they would part with a holy kiss to their friends and others, and be off, until they did it all again.
And it's amazing how Luke describes the worship experience. All were "in awe" of what took place as the apostles taught. Amazed is another description. Some translations even use the word "fear". It must have been an amazing experience for these people. And guess what? The text says that day by day, more and more people were drawn to this experience. Traditional worship, described my many contemporary worshipers today as irrelevant or too structured, would do well to look at how this order of worship worked then, and now.
Traditional worship at its best. And guess what, we Lutherans repeat this exact same order every Sunday as we gather, following that of the earliest Christian worshipers (above.) Can't get any more traditional than that! This sacred pattern of gathering, word, meal, and sending is as old as the Christian church itself. And in this flow, if you will, we encounter the divine...the holy...God in Christ Jesus. Check out the attached bulletin and see the main headings of worship in BOLD print:
So, while I do enjoy many of the new and contemporary Christian music we hear in church, on the radio, and all, give me my traditional order of Christian worship I described above, right out of Acts. Somehow, in doing so, I feel connected to all the saints since the early 1st century. I feel more connected to the holy. What about you? Thanks be to God! Amen.
Hope to see some of you tomorrow!