In this post, I want to write about the significance of the Call to Worship in the worship service and how it fits into the larger liturgy of the Divine Service. I am someone who enjoys to see a liturgy when I go to a new church for vacation or whatever reason. I also enjoy looking at liturgies in the history of the church. When we compare liturgies of churches (present day or past) what strikes us at first glance is that they are different with the same components. And when I look at a liturgy I usually try to understand the story I’m being told. The construction of the liturgy (order of worship, worship service, etc.) is like looking at the architecture of a building, there is a reason for its design and it communicates something. And the more we understand the design principles the more we understand what is being communicated through the liturgy.
When construction projects begin, workers bring with them decades, if not centuries, of data. They understand what works, what helps, and where creativity can exist. The same applies to liturgies. They are built in the wake of thousands of liturgies in history. Why the change? Ministers, in light of their experience and knowledge, have adapted the components and orders of the liturgies to be used by congregation. When a building is completed and being used, this is the time to see if the design works. In the end, certain changes might be needed because the design isn’t functional. Our building for example has gone through a series of changes, it was an ice rink, then dental offices, and lastly a church. Changes were made, significant changes, but somethings couldn’t be changed or it wouldn’t be a building, it wouldn’t be safe. We may, in the end, come to the conclusion that there is a change that is needed in the liturgy, and that’s ok. However some changes are not, there will come a point where it is no longer a worship of God and it’s no longer safe.
When we look at liturgies of the past they are telling a story using a pattern. This pattern is a movement that culminates with a crescendo. The worship service has two movements, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table where the crescendo of the first is the preaching of the Word and the second is Communion. Much like a drama has Acts 1, 2, and 3 the first movement (the Liturgy of the Word) has “acts”. The drama is sequenced into manageable parts for the audience, the Liturgy of the Word is sequenced into manageable parts for the worshipper. This means the Liturgy of the Word is more than the sermon, there’s a flow that leads to the sermon. We are brought in and prepared to hear through a sequence of “acts” that culminate in the preaching of the Word. And it all starts with opening act.
This tells us that even the beginning is important, how do we start? What do we say? What are we communicating with what we say? If the service is telling us a story, if it is a drama then the opening act is Act 1. This is what we generally label the “Call to Worship”. It’s where we become familiar with the characters, we learn who is who and who is what. God is calling, we are his people, he is Creator and we are created. In my experience many Christians are willing to ignore “Act 1”, if they don’t show up early, they go through it rather carelessly with minimal effort. That’s because they don’t see that it ties to a story the liturgy is telling, they haven’t been taught. And that is partly my fault as a pastor but their fault as a worshipper. But it’s more than telling a story where we are the audience or observer, we are part of the story and participate in a new world, a kingdom. Act 1 is an important part, it’s not just the beginning of the story. It’s the beginning of the drama and you’re about to realize that you are part of it.