Commands, patterns, and principles of worship found in the Scriptures shape the content and order of our Holy Communion service. The basic form of our liturgy is found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Reformed Episcopal Church. It employs liturgical patterns, songs, prayers, and words that are thoroughly based on Scripture or come directly from it.
The Order of Service
The order of service is a tool to help us attend to the worship of God with our whole being. Each piece of the service helps us focus on a different aspect of God, His work in our lives, and what He expects from us as faithful covenant men and women. We hope to touch some truth about God, to be encouraged, challenged, convicted, fed, restored, and changed by our time with Him. Notice that the entire service is a series of God speaking and we responding. It follows a pattern of covenant renewal.
1. God Calls Us to Worship
God calls us to worship Him. We come for no other reason. An incredible, unique, and miraculous event takes place every Lord's Day as the people of God come from wherever they are and gather to worship Him. Our worship begins at home as we prepare to come. We convene as His assembly, His called out ones, to do business with Him, not as individuals but as a body of people, not as a collection of rafts but as a ship. We are troops presenting ourselves for review before our Superior Officer. We come to give God a command performance. Together, we go on a journey into heaven, into the presence of the Almighty God, the Holy One. There we join with all the angels, the hosts of heaven, and all of God's people in songs and praise. We offer ourselves to Him again as living sacrifices and renew our covenant with Him. Our worship helps insure that He is preeminent in all matters individual and corporate as our dread, Sovereign Lord and as our loving Father.
The Procession – Come into His presence with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise. The procession speaks of our coming out of the world to participate in the worship of Almighty God.
Prologue – Blessed be God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And blessed be His Kingdom now and forever. Amen. The destination of the journey is announced at the beginning, it is the goal, the end of all our desires and interests. We are going to follow Christ in His ascension to the Father. Our "amen" acknowledges and accepts that the kingdom of God is the Church's ultimate destination.
Greeting – The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. This is a prayerful greeting for the fullness of God's life to be with us – a kind of "fare well on the journey this morning." It also acknowledges that we must make the journey together.
Collect for Purity – The collect collects all of our thoughts and helps us to focus together on what we are about to do. We prepare our hearts to worship.
2. God Instructs Us
Here Christ, the Logos, visits us in His Word. He exposes any sin, error, deception, or waywardness in thought or practice. The Word teaches, reproves, corrects, and trains us. We should be on the edge of our seats intently listening to hear what the Lord might say to us from His Word.
Decalogue or Summary of the Law – These state the terms of the covenant.
Lord have Mercy – Our response is ‘Lord, have mercy' because we cannot and do not ever perfectly love or obey the Lord, or one another.
Scripture Readings – Paul exhorts Timothy not to neglect the public reading of Scripture. The Scriptures are primarily intended to be heard, not read silently, so we should never neglect to read them on the LORD's Day. The Old Covenant Reading is the voice of the Old Covenant saints. The Epistle Reading is the voice of the Apostles and Prophets. The Gospel Reading, the Voice of Jesus, is read in the middle of the congregation to remind us that Jesus became flesh, dwelt among us, and taught us.
Creeds – The Creeds represent the voice of the New Covenant Church. By reciting the creeds we affirm our commitment to "the faith once delivered to the saints."
Song – We rejoice in God's speaking and His great gifts
Pastoral Prayer – An elder, as a representative of the church and as God's delegated authority, leads the congregation in prayer before the Lord.
Sermon – God has given gifts of teaching and preaching to the church. The teacher seeks to make clearer and more practical for us the teachings of Scripture. The message should challenge us, convict us, instruct us, and encourage us. To listen well and be attentive often requires work on our part.
3. God Restores and Glorifies Us
Here we respond to all God has said.
Offertory – We affirm our commitment to God and His world by offering the sacrifices of the tithe (one tenth of our increase) and offerings. We acknowledge He is the source of all provision and return our life to Him. The tithes support and strengthen the local church by providing for its pastors and ministries thereby extending His kingdom into the world. Offerings are often given to meet particular needs.
Prayer for the Church Militant – We pray for the health and strength of Christ's entire Church.
Exhortation – Challenges us to seriously deal with our sins before we take communion. The communion table is a place of blessing or judgment depending on whether we take dealing with our sins seriously.
Confession of Sin – Before God and His Word we all fall short. We have done things we ought not to have done and we did not do things we should have done. We also sin in ignorance. We dare not come to a holy God harboring sin in our hearts so we must confess our sins. "Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord and who may stand in His holy place. He who has clean hands and a pure heart, and has not lifted up his soul unto falsehood." We are ready after the confession to finish our ascension together into heaven.
Assurance of Pardon/Comfortable Words – "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." God restores and glorifies us as persons, a process that continues throughout the service. With our sins confessed and forgiven, with our consciences washed and cleansed from defilement, we are now able to move on in our corporate journey as holy, forgiven people into the fellowship of our God.
Sursum Corda – This phrase means "lift up your hearts". It symbolizes the completion our ascension into heaven where we will worship with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven before God, where He is seated on His heavenly throne. We say or sing with them the words of this heavenly worship song which is called the...
Ter Sanctus – meaning "three holies". Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
4. God Feeds Us
Now Christ the Word is present and speaks to us in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Consecration of the Bread and Wine – "This is My Body...This is My Blood" — This is not the same bread and wine you have on Saturday night.
Prayer of Oblation – We present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God.
Lord's Prayer – We establish the Lordship of Christ over all of life.
Prayer of Humble Access (to the Lord's Table) – He has invited us to come but we can never approach God on our own merits. We thank Him for making us worthy.
Holy Communion/The Lord's Supper – Everything in the meeting so far leads us to this point. We just listened to the Lord's counsel and commands. He spoke and we are to respond, to say, "Yes, Lord," (AMEN) and agree to do all that He has spoken. We accept His appraisal of our lives by confessing our sins. Now we rest, we feast, we enjoy the fruits of His salvation, and we receive the food of His body and blood. Meals in the Scripture are the place where covenants are affirmed and reaffirmed. This meal is no different. By taking the Lord's Supper we are renewing our covenant with Him. To eat and drink this meal of bread and wine with the Lord we reaffirm our loyalty to Him and restate our intention to obey Him in everything He has commanded. We kneel when we take communion because, in the Scriptures, kneeling is a position of humility and thankfulness. This is a time of thanksgiving and enjoying the fruits of His victory over sin and death. It is a time for remembering the Lord's death. It is a time for remembering the resurrection. It is a time to look forward to the Lamb's Marriage Supper at the end of this age.
Song – We rejoice in God's giving His great gifts
5. God Commissions Us
Yahweh has called us, instructed us, restored and glorified us, fed us, and now He commissions us and sends us into the world to be ambassadors for Him, to be light in the world, to be His witnesses, to expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness, to walk in a manner that is worthy of Him, to do good to all men especially to those in the household of faith, to do good works, and to live our lives sacrificially for the life of the world.
Prayer of Thanksgiving – Prayer is the first work of the people of God. We pray as He commands for grace to live in Him and for Him.
Gloria in Excelsis – This is the desire and goal of our lives – the glory of God.
Benediction – The minister speaks a "good word" that we all may find the grace of God to engage faithfully in our ruling activities, to live holy and blameless lives, and be faithful witnesses to Him.
Recession – We leave God's presence to go and live for the life of the world. We shine as lights before all men to bring honour and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.