Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Offertory and Preface for the Service of the Sacrament - Lent Midweek Six - March 16, 2016 - Text: Psalm 116:12-13, 17-19; Psalm 51:10-12
This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we have been looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and seeing how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. The parts of the service we have skipped so far are confession and absolution which we will take up on Good Friday and the Lord’s Supper which we will take up on Maundy Thursday, the evening in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper.
Last week we moved on in our divine service to our response to the Word of God we were given in the divine service, that Word of God which was read in the readings, the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings and that Word of God we were given in the sermon, that is our response of our offering our prayers as well as our first fruit tithes to the Lord. We made note that it was because we have been given the gifts of God that we are moved to respond to those gifts and blessings by bringing our prayers. Indeed, just as it is the Gospel and not the law that moves us to confess our sins, that is it is because we know our sins are forgiven that we are moved to confess our sins, and not the fear of the law which would only lead us to self-righteousness or despair, so it is the word of Gospel we have just heard that moves us to bring our prayers and petitions before our Lord. It is because we have heard the Word of the Lord that our sins are forgiven and that our Lord has so much He desires to give to us that we respond with our prayers and petitions. Certainly our prayers and petitions include our offerings of thanks and praise, but also prayers seeking God’s strength, comfort and all the gifts He has to give. Also, our prayers are offered not because God does not know what we need, but because of our need to acknowledge God’s gifts to us, in other words, God already knows our needs, our real needs, we pray so that we might acknowledge before God our needs and desires. It is because we have heard the Word of the Gospel that we sing our hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Indeed we made note that the best hymns are those hymns which express our doctrine, that is what we believe, teach and confess. And we made note that the giving of our first fruit tithes is indeed a matter of faith. Our offerings are our response of faith and are a reflection of our faith. Unfortunately too many people do not understand what our offerings truly are, that is they are a response of faith and a reflection of our faith. It is this returning of a portion that is a reflection of our faith, because the portion we return reflects whether or not we first acknowledge that what we have has been first given to us by God and then it tests our faith as to whether or not we believe the Lord will continue to pour out on us so generously.
This evening we move on in the divine service to the offertory and the preface for the service of the Sacrament. The offertory is that word of God that is spoken, sung or chanted as the offerings of God’s people are presented and as the Lord’s Table is prepared for the people of God. There are two offertories commonly used. The first is one which speaks of God’s preparing us for being given His body and blood in His Holy Meal, that is the offertory from Psalm 51, “10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Ps. 51:10-12). The other common offertory is the one recognizing the gifts that God gives and our response of faith from Psalm 116, “12What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? 13I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. 17I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. 18I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, 19in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 116:12-13; 17-19).
During the offertory, as our offerings are presented we sing praises to the Lord. We acknowledge that all we have is a gift and benefit from God who gives first and we offer our pledge of sacrifice and testimony of our lives as lives saved by Jesus.
Following the offertory we move into our preparation for the Sacrament of the Altar. We great each other, pastor/host and gift recipient with a prayer of God’s presence, “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” Thus, the first word spoken to begin the Lord’s Supper is the name of the Lord. It is His Supper, the Lord’s Supper in name and in reality, not the supper of Christians. The Lord is serving and giving out His gifts. His gifts are given with the words that carry and give what they say. We are exhorted to lift up our hearts to God and we acknowledge our lifting them up, “Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them to the Lord.” And we are exhorted to give thanks and we do give thanks, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.” These words come by way of Jewish prayer as given in the great Shema, the “hear oh Israel” that God’s name is Lord God. He is present, welcomed, acclaimed and we are to give Him thanks. In Jewish prayers this invitation was used as a table prayer that blessed the gifts of God to the people of God.
We are prepared with a sentence of reflection of the season of the church year through what is called the Proper Preface and we respond with the Sanctus, Holy, Holy, Holy, and the Hosanna, the “save now.” A prayer of thanksgiving is offered pointing us once again to our Lord who is the host and the one giving the gifts through His Holy Meal.
We then speak back to God the very words He has given us to speak in the most perfect prayer, His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed as we are often exhorted with such human exhortations as the only real prayers are those that we make up from the heart, I would contend that the Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect prayer because it is His prayer, He has given it to us to pray, I cannot make up any better prayer from my heart, and I know the Lord rejoices when we say back to Him the very words He has given us to say.
The pastor then speaks the words of institution, a conflation of the accounts of the last Passover of Jesus from which He gives us this holy supper, the accounts from Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Apostle Paul. During the Passover Jesus takes the middle matzah, the one that was broken and half hidden to be found at this moment in the Seder, the middle matzah of which the veiled eyes of the Jews cannot determine what it means, yet we understand the three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and this middle matzah is Jesus Himself, pierced, as the holes in the matzah, scourged so that by His stripes we are healed, as the matzah shows the burnt stipes, and broken as He was broken on the cross. Jesus took this middle matzah, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples telling them to take and eat this bread which is my body so that we know from His very words we are eating not something that has been changed into nor represents, but is His body. Thus, just as those who offered the ceremonial sacrifice ate of the sacrificed lamb, thus participating in the sacrifice, so we eat of the bread, the body of Jesus, thus participating in His sacrifice on the cross for us. Jesus then takes the cup of wine, the third cup, the cup of redemption, again offers a prayer of thanks giving and gives it to His disciples telling them to take and drink from the cup of wine, not something that has been changed into nor represent, but that is His blood. Again, as we eat His body and drink His blood we participate in Him. His life, His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect death becomes our perfect death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
Finally, before approaching the altar we confess what we are about to be given in the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. As John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” so we confess about Jesus as we approach to partake of the Lamb.
Following the supper we rejoice in words of thanksgiving, but even more appropriately the words of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, the now dismiss. Just as Simeon speaks of how he was ready to die because he had seen and held the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, so having partaken of Jesus’ body and blood, we are prepared to meet our Lord as well and to meet Him with all joy and confidence. And so, we have seen and bear witness to the fulfillment of what was promised in Eden and what was pointed to by all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and we rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.