Service of the Word: Epiphany Advent Reflection

You might not have realized it, but each Sunday at Epiphany we participate in two services, not just one. Sunday Worship in the Anglican tradition is a service of both Word and Table. Worship starts with the service of the Word which includes prayers, scripture readings, the sermon, and ends with the Peace. The second half of worship is the service of the Table. It starts with the offering, moves into Holy Communion, and ends with Fr. Justin blessing us. For Advent, Fr. Justin and I have been taking you through the major parts of the service of the Word. Today, I’ll briefly focus on the core of the service: the lessons, the sermon, and the Creed.

The lessons are the top bun of the sermon sandwich, as it were. Starting with Old Testament readings we listen as prophets, patriarchs, and kings of Israel proclaim God’s goodness and the future salvation brought by his Messiah. From the Old Testament, we move on to Paul and other apostles testifying to the living Christ and his free gift of salvation for the entire world. Finally, after Old and New Testament have spoken of the Messiah and pointed to Christ, Fr. Justin brings the written Word to the middle of us gathered for worship and reads from a gospel. Here, Jesus in his words and ministry speaks for himself. All turn, stand, and listen.

Christ, having been proclaimed from Scripture, now takes on flesh in the sermon. The sermon is the meat of the sandwich. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Justin or another preacher brings God’s forever narrative of love and salvation into the present moment. Difficulties are explained. Connections between the past and present are made. The Good News of God’s Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection is shared with God’s people. In this moment, God bears Scripture anew in our hearts and prepares us for his great wedding feast.

After the sermon, we finish our weekly sandwich by saying “amen.” The lessons and sermon, however, need much more than a simple amen. The sermon sandwich needs an amen that fills in the gaps. A sermon can only cover so much. A lesson is but a few verses. God is too big to fit inside such neat little boxes. In the Creed the entirety of God’s great story is called to our memory. We remember him as Creator. We reflect on his Holy Incarnation. We marvel at death’s defeat. We affirm his Holy Church and its apostolic teaching. We stand with the saints of past, present, and future and proclaim our fidelity to our God and King. It is an amen that affirms what we have just heard, what we have heard in the past, and what we will hear in the future. It is an amen that stands outside of time and stretches straight to the throne of God.

As Advent draws to a close and secular Christmas hits its crashing crescendo, our hearts and minds are pulled toward the long-expected Christ-child; the Word made flesh. Since after Thanksgiving we have sat reflecting on Christ’s return while the secular world feasted. We know we’re countercultural, but we also know of the joys we’ll experience on Christmas Eve night when Advent fades and the true feast of Christ’s Nativity breaks into our world.

The service of the Word is much like Advent. We sit. We listen. We reflect. And then, when the time has come, the season suddenly changes and Christ arrives at his Communion feast.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” but don’t take me directly to the feast around your throne. Walk with me a while and teach me your ways, so that I might know why I feast. Amen.

In Christ,

Michael Arnold