Category Archives: LitBits – Features

Reading the Scriptures in Worship

The ministry of lector (Scripture reader) in worship is a very important one. The reader’s role is to enable the first hearing of the Word of God, upon which the preacher will build.

It matters, then, that the readings are heard as clearly as possible. This is best achieved with practice beforehand, and a good sense for what the text is actually about. Practice will help to annunciate well – especially difficult Semitic names and places – and read at a hearable speed (which is generally slower than you might think!).

Yet a text can be well-read, in terms of annunciation and speed, and still be read wrongly or even misleadingly. Once you have the turn of phrase and speed for reading about right, you then need to read it as if you wrote it. This is a matter of allowing the emphasis to fall on the right words.

Consider, for example, the opening verses of much-loved Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

If the emphasis falls on ‘hills’ in the first verse, then the implication is that this is the place where the Lord is to found: I look to the hills, where the Lord is to be found.

The ‘high places’, however, were locations for pagan worship. It is quite likely that the emphasis in verse 1 should fall on “my help”, echoed in the ‘My help’ and then “the Lord” of verse 2: others may look to the hills, but I look to the Lord.

The difference is enormous.

When we write and read our own texts, we naturally place the emphasis in reading on the points we are trying to make, because we know to whom we are writing, and why. A letter to the electricity company emphasizes that I’ve already paid the account. A love letter announces that I love you and you alone. Reading such things aloud comes naturally.

For the most part, the Scriptures are polemical writings, constantly drawing contrasts and bringing corrections to understandings of words and actions in the same way as our own writings do, only we didn’t write them. A clear reading of the Scriptures in worship requires understanding what it against which, and for which, the texts are arguing: help comes not from the pagan high places, but from the Lord.

There are many resources to assist in understanding the polemic of a biblical passage. Bible commentaries with critical-historical information are very useful. For Revised Common lectionary readings, good background on the texts can be found on the web pages of Bill Loader and Howard Wallace; links to these pages are usually circulated to MtE members in the Sunday before the readings are heard.

Another valuable resource – usually a bit more extensive in its comment than the Loader and Wallace pages, is the Texts for Preaching series. These are available in hard copy or electronic form and are well worth the expense (about $100 for the 3-volume set).

If the text for a Sunday doesn’t come from the set reading, then try to find a general commentary on that book, or simply ask the preacher where he or she thinks the emphasis falls!

LitBit Feature – Lift up your Hearts

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Lift Up Your Hearts” (The Sursum Corda). A cry of faith introduces the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving. It has many scriptural resonances. Lamentations 3:41, has the exact words, while Psalm 24:7 & 9 are a similar dialogue. Then there is Christ’s command to “Love God with all your heart.” (Mark 12:30) while Paul speaks of Christians as being raised with Christ to see the things that are above (Colossians 3:1). These words, and the response “We lift them to the Lord”, can be found in the earliest liturgies we have. In the Latin West, Cyprian (250 CE) includes it. In the Greek East, Cyril of Jerusalem (350 CE) quotes it. Similarly it can be found in the earliest services in Syriac, Coptic and Armenian. In prayer, the faithful unite their hearts and minds with the Lord. Immediately worshippers are one with the faithful of both Old and New Testaments, and with Christians through all ages and around the whole world. In this is a cause to rejoice. But more: lifting our hearts to the Lord contains an element of living in the end time, when Christ is all and in all. Around the Lord’s table Christians dwell in time of a different kind. It is as if a liturgical Tardis has deposited worshippers at the heavenly banquet, when heaven and earth have passed away: a second cause for elation. This versicle, with the response “We lift them to the Lord”, is a profound act of faith and commitment.

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LitBit Feature – Advent and Christmas

LitBits Logo - 2Advent and Christmas. The word “advent” comes from a Latin root meaning “coming” or “arrival”. The length of the season has varied at different times, but is now generally observed over the period of the four Sundays prior to Christmas and has been considered the beginning of the liturgical year since the 9th century. Advent was originally developed as a preparation for the celebrations of Christmas – the arrival or coming of Christ. The season, however, has also come to be a period of reflection on the church’s expectation of a “parousia”, or “second coming”, of Christ. Like all seasons of the Christian year, Advent and Christmas are caught between Easter and (the following) Good Friday. It is in the brilliant light of Easter that Christmas takes on its hopeful significance, and it is the journey from Christmas to Good Friday which fills out our understanding of the one who has come, who will be lost, and who we will meet again. Being seasons of Easter, Advent and Christmas are gospel-seasons of unexpected life out of death. Christian hope arises not out of our desperate need and waiting, nor from the natural potential of a newborn baby, but when both need and potential are flouted by a God who saves us by subverting our understanding of what we need and might become. Advent is not hopeless, nor Christmas optimistic, but are seasons for remembering a future we could not otherwise envision but towards which God draws us, sometimes in spite of ourselves, but always to our benefit and to his glory.

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LitBit Feature – Passing of the Peace

LitBits Logo - 2The Passing of the Peace.   The passing of the peace is an ancient liturgical rite, often enacted in earlier times as a “kiss of peace” but more often today as a handshake or embrace. The passing of the peace is more than a “hello”, which is suggested in some liturgies where it takes place quite early in the service. The peace is a prayer: that peace be with the one we greet, and this prayer is reciprocated with the response, ‘And also with you.” The passing of the peace usually takes place following the triplet of the prayer of confession, the declaration of forgiveness and the doxology (hymn of praise). In this location, the passing of the peace extends what has declared in the preaching to have occurred between the people and God to a declaration of the people to each other. As God is seen in the declaration of forgiveness no longer to be a “threat” to us, we declare that we will no longer be a threat to each other. Hence, “peace be with you”, not simply as a general wish or even merely a prayer but as a commitment of one member of the congregation to another which anticipates the unity enacted in the Eucharist which follows.

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LitBit Feature – Invocation

LitBits Logo - 2The Opening Prayer of Invocation. The opening of prayer in many liturgies is a prayer of invocation. This prayer includes story-telling, thanksgiving and the invocation itself. The story-telling is the means by which we identify which God it is we are talking to. Consider the opening line of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments): “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The God who addresses Israel here has a name, “Yahweh” (typically translated in English Bibles as Lord, with small capitals), and a history: “brought you out of Egypt”. The thanksgiving notes that the history God has with us is a saving one: “out of the house of slavery”. The invocation itself indicates that we cannot presume upon God’s being with us: God is free and is not simply “present” as divine ether waiting for us to acknowledge him. The call to God reflects the call to the people to gather to hear in the preceding Call to Worship.

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How to use LitBit Features and Commentaries.

How to use LitBit Commentaries and Features

How to use LitBit Features

LitBit features are intended to be inserted into a pew sheet in the “notices” section, spanning the whole page. You can either copy the text in the LitBit post and paste it into your pew sheet at an appropriate position (editing it, if you like), or copy and past an image of the text via the link in the post (which cannot be edited).

How to use this LitBit Commentary Snippets

LitBit liturgical commentary snippets are intended to be inserted into a pew sheet in the midst of the liturgy itself. They are mostly easily included by creating a text box in your word processing program and then formatting text and box size and location so that it appears in the right place without obstructing the printed order itself.

Select the text in the post, copy it and paste it into a text box in your word processor.

Shorter commentary texts might be situated on your page as a “gloss” or side comment; longer texts might span the page. It can help to change the font and colour of the text to minimize confusion on the page.

LitBit Feature – Christ the King

LitBits Logo - 2The feast of Christ the King. The feast of Christ the King (or the Reign of Christ) was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, making it a comparatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar. The celebration was established in the context of growing European nationalisms and a dispute between Italy and the Roman church regarding the sovereignty of the Vatican. It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October (the Sunday prior to All Saints, November 1), but was moved in 1969 by Pope Paul VI to the end of “Ordinary”. This location, at the “end” of the liturgical calendar, highlights the eschatological or end-time orientation of the celebration. The lectionary readings on this day refer to the coming consummation of all things under Christ. The take-up by many protestant church of the new common lectionaries of the 1970s, ‘80s and 90’s saw the feast become a regular feature also in protestant worship cycles. The liturgical colour for the Reign of Christ is white or gold.

Click here for a copy-able image of this text for your pew sheet.

How to use LitBit Features and Commentaries.