The order of worship in the Reformed tradition is a theological statement to what we believe. Every form of worship tells a story through the songs sung, the liturgy read, the prayers offered, the scripture read, and the offering collected. Each piece plays a part in a larger narrative.
Some worship traditions offer more flexibility than ours, others less. Some adapt convention that feels more comfortable for Christian seekers- high energy music transitioning to a more meditative song and the sermon as the climax of the service. Others concern themselves with logistics over story. I heard of a pastor who served a church that did all parts of the liturgy that required standing at the beginning of worship so that people wouldn’t have to get up and down so much over the course of the hour. Still other forms of worship incorporate many spontaneous acts of singing and dancing and speaking in tongues.
Our worship, however, tells the story of our biblical faith. Like the beginning of scripture in creation, our worship begins in praise of the triune God, and that knowledge of God’s majesty and love causes us to take a closer look at ourselves. Seeing the truth of our disobedience, we confess our sin, both the sin of our individual lives and the larger sin that surrounds us in the world to which we are complicit.
After our confession we hear again the Good News, that “in Jesus Christ you are forgiven!”
Everything that comes after the Assurance of Pardon is then directed toward how we live out the grace we know in Jesus. Scripture, sermon, creeds, offering, prayers for the world are all borne out of the grace of God made manifest in the cross and in resurrection glory.
Recently on a pastor’s retreat one of our leaders spoke to us about the processes of writing and crafting worship liturgy. He told us that once he has figured out how to composes the Prayer of Confession, the rest of the service, including the sermon, falls into place.
The confession is the moment of truth, the moment we’ve spent six days hiding from, the moment when we must be honest with ourselves. And then the assurance is the reminder, again and again, that God’s grace comes to us anew, continually renewing and reclaiming and redeeming us.
Our leader told us that the Assurance of Pardon is, he believes, the climax of worship. “It is to hear that God is for us, that God loves and accepts us, that draws people to worship on a Sunday. What could I possibly say that is more important than that?”
So even when it feels like tired routine, even when you find your mind wandering and you’re just going through the motions, remember that when we worship, the climax of our story is the assurance:
Who is in a position to condemn?
And Christ died for us.
Christ rose for us.
Christ reigns in power for us.
Christ prays for us.
For anyone who is in Christ, there is new creation.
The old life is gone.
A new life has begun.
Know you are forgiven, and be at peace.