Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why We Worship the Way we Do: Part Six

The highest point of worship is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, also called The Great Thanksgiving. The word Eucharist (Matthew 26:27 et al) is the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The New Testament most often refers to this as The Breaking of Bread (Acts 2:42 et al).

The early church celebrated this rite every week as they met together. The responsive reading of Lift up your hearts, etc., is an ancient prayer of Thanksgiving or sursum corda, meaning, “to turn your hearts.” Similar extemporaneous words from the celebrant were used as early as 155 A.D. and set as rule by the third century as a way to ensure the faithful did not receive the body and blood unworthily (I Cor. 11:27-29). Our Great Thanksgiving with the Elder’s Prayers captures both of these traditions as we prepare to receive the bread of heaven and cup of salvation. The Word’s of Institution are the very words of Christ as recorded by Holy Scripture when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. The early Church believed that it was the saying of these words that made the Lord Supper real. These prayers and words are structured to bring the church through a re-presentation of the drama of our salvation. We give thanks for our creation, preservation through the cross, and our walk of faith. More than just an ordinal or ordinance (something ordered that we do merely as an act of commemoration), Holy Communion is a sacrament whereby God meets us in a very intimate setting, and bestows upon us a means of grace. It reaffirms the seal he put upon us at our baptism. I personally believe Christ's own teaching and that of the early church in seeing communion as more than a memorial of a past event. In the prayer of consecration, bread and wine become our spiritual food – the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…his Real Presence.

The Disciples of Christ celebrate an open table, which means that our communion is open to all baptized believers. Communion of young children is offered at the discretion of the parents. We believe this is one of the most intimate times of worship available to the believer, thus we encourage you to use this time to focus upon the Lord. Following Communion, we say the Lord’s Prayer; the order suggested by Chalice Worship (our denomination’s book of worship) and concludes with the Great Mystery of our faith or the Summation. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Based on Colossians 3:3, these are the essentials of our faith in which we share as heirs with Christ (I Cor. 15:12-25; Rom. 10:9).

Finally we receive a benediction from the celebrant. Benediction means “the good word.” It is this point in the service that we are dismissed. More then just permission to leave, the word dismissal comes from the Latin missa est, meaning “Go, you have been sent.” This is why our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters call their service, the mass from the word missa. Our bulletin seeks to be very clear about our duty as we call this portion of our worship: Going Forth to Serve God. Worship has not ended as we leave, it simply continues in a different venue.

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