Most of the time, most of us don’t think about the words we say together and the things we do together during worship on Sunday morning. In a certain sense, there is nothing wrong with that. We don’t, for instance, think a lot about the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” when we sing them on the Fourth of July either, but we still love our country.
That approach, however, won’t work very well this Advent. Starting Nov. 30 and continuing through Dec. 21, Epiphany is going to be using a new set of words, a new liturgy. This liturgy is the “Short Form” of the Eucharist from the Anglican Church in North America (our national church body). Many of the words will be familiar. It is almost exactly the same length as the liturgy from the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer that we are currently using.
But some things will also be different. Here are a few changes to be aware of:
- The Summary of the Law: The new liturgy includes a reading of Matthew 22.37-40 “Jesus said you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” near the beginning of every service. We have used this occasionally here at Epiphany in the past, but not every Sunday. Using this every Sunday reminds us of the basic direction Jesus gives us for living as Christians.
- The Nicene Creed: The new liturgy uses a slightly different (and more accurate to the original text) translation of the Nicene Creed than the one that we have grown accustomed to. While the vast majority of the English words of the creed are the same, a few phrases may trip us up until we are used to it. For instance, instead of saying, “by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary.” We will say Jesus “was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.”
- Communion: The beginning of communion and the words of the priest’s prayer over the bread and the wine are probably the most markedly different parts of the new service. Many of these changes are because this portion of the new service actually represents a return (shortened and in contemporary language) to the form of the original Anglican communion services. This liturgy also includes “The Prayer of Humble Access” which we all say together just before we take communion. We have used this occasionally at Epiphany in the past. It begins with the words “We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness.”
So, why are we doing this? If there is nothing terribly wrong with our current worship services, why try something new?
We are doing it for two reasons. First is simply that this is the liturgy of our national church. While there is not a command from on high that says we must use this worship service, I think it is important for us to experience it at Epiphany and be familiar with it. It is, for instance, the worship service that is used at all diocesan events (such as our recent diocesan synod in Woodbridge Nov. 14-15) and national gatherings of our church.
Secondly, changing, even just a little bit, the words we say in church from time to time gives us an opportunity to really hear them again, and to process the message they contain. What better time to listen more closely than this Advent season of waiting and anticipation?
Finally, my own sense is that this is a good liturgy, faithful to our Anglican way of worship, and useful in reconnecting us with some elements of that tradition that aren’t always as clear in other liturgies we use. But that said, we need to actually try it for a bit to see how it sits with us, and if it is a fit for Epiphany. After we complete this short season, we will evaluate how this new liturgy worked and discuss what role it should have in our worship going forward.
So, come to church starting Nov. 30 ready to experience something a little different, something new, in the words we say together. Plan on keeping your worship book open and avoid going on liturgical “autopilot.” Hear the story of salvation through Jesus Christ in our worship, in these old, new, words of God’s love.