If you were asked to rank the elements of worship from most to least meaningful, where would you begin?
This is a hopelessly subjective question. One week the anthem might top the list, the next week the sermon. One week the praise band or the pipe organ might be the most inspiring element and one week it could be the morning prayer or a hymn that the congregation sings with particular fervor.
I want to suggest that you pay particular attention to the seemingly insignificant elements of worship, too. Sometimes it might be the way a person reads the Bible with reverence, power or humility. Sometimes is might be the way a voice dwells on one particular phrase or word in that reading and sometimes it might be the demeanor of the person who steps into the pulpit to read. It might be as small as how that person opens the Bible and turns the page.
Sometimes the most meaningful element of worship might be when a person grasps your hand, looks in your eye and says, “The peace of Christ be with you.” It could be the smile of a person in the pew. It could be the glint of sun on one particular piece of glass in a stained glass window or it the way an acolyte lights a candle.
I wish I had given more attention to these things when I was preaching weekly. Perhaps the pastor inevitably must focus on that week’s exposition on the Word of God. Perhaps the pastor still may be – even as he or she steps into the pulpit –wrestling with a particular thought, illustration, or conclusion to the sermon. It’s a challenge for the one who preaches to remain aware of the totality of the service.
These days I am no longer stepping into the pulpit; I am sitting in the pew. The sermon is still very important to me and I find inspiration from it weekly. But now other elements — previously overlooked — introduce themselves to me.
Last week the most important element of worship came during the Opening Voluntary when the organist offered a two to three minute musical composition to God. Suddenly things begin to open. I can’t express it any more clearly than that. My heart opened. My soul opened. My consciousness opened to divine reality. It is not as if I said, “I’m going to be open today.” But aided by the Spirit I found myself — without even trying — to be receptive to hear truth about God, the world, the church and myself through hymn, prayer, anthem or sermon. I was flooded in those two to three minutes with intimations of immortality, cascades of grace. God was powerfully available.
The remainder of the service was meaningful from start to finish. But the highlight came in the first three minutes of morning worship, a gift of openness to God and opening from God. Where do you find meaning in weekly worship?
Creede Hinshaw is a retired minister living in Macon.