Growing up Southern Baptist, I was accustomed to a somewhat informal worship service in that there were no robes except in the choir, no processional except maybe at the Christmas pageant, no candle lighting except on Christmas Eve or for a wedding, and nothing that even smacked of a ritual unless you count the Order of Worship dutifully distributed each Sunday. For sure, if the usual order of service was not followed, you could hear whispers in the pews, “They don’t usually put that there. That is usually after…”
It was a major decision, one challenging the Second Coming in import and impact, when the offering was moved to after the sermon so the preacher could have time to get the entire sermon into the allotted TV minutes. I think a deacons’ meeting or two was needed to discuss the matter. Hanging over the proceedings was the fear that surely someone would go to eternal damnation because they did not hear the gospel on TV that morning.
Nonetheless, the service had a predictable liturgy (a word never overheard in those days). I always suspected we were trying to avoid looking Catholic.
Now, still a Baptist of sorts, in a church that is barely Baptist according to some (the sign out front says it is), children dressed in white signal the beginning of worship and call our attention to what is about to happen by walking down the center isle and lighting a candle or two.
Simple enough, right? Yes, but also profound for we are joining a narrative of God’s people that has endured and been re-enacted through the ages. And as the candle starts to glow and be reflected in the cross behind it, we can hear, “Pay attention! Something is about to happen.”
As the organ plays and the congregation sings, the robed worship leaders and choir process down the center isle to the loft and podium. Invariably I am put in mind of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?”
Or, perhaps, “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20), which, being interpreted means: “Put away your smartphones and for just this brief time, unclutter your mind of all the concerns that daily overwhelm you. Pay attention! Pay attention! The Holy Spirit is about to say something over the din of life.”
And, if we are so attuned, we can hear Isaiah saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And that includes this place called Highland.
– Bill Holmes, Lent 2016