Our Rich Liturgical Heritage

The call to worship

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The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain

Expectations are always important for most aspects of our lives. They are never more so when we come to church. With the demise of Morning and Evening Prayer we risk bringing expectations when we come to church that may dishonour God and diminish us.

The AAPB (1975) abridgement of the memorable BCP’s Dearly beloved brethren… is well worth our attention. Following a wonderful selection of Old and New Testament texts, reminders of our sinfulness and God’s desire to restore the repentant, we have, what many consider to be an exhortation without equal in conciseness and clarity. It runs:

Dear friends, the Scriptures urge us to acknowledge our many sins, and not to conceal them in the presence of God our heavenly Father, but to confess them with a penitent and obedient heart, so that we may be forgiven through his boundless goodness and mercy.
We ought always humbly to admit our sins before God, but chiefly when we meet together to give thanks for the benefits we have received at his hands, to offer the praise that is due to him, to hear his most holy word, and to ask what is necessary for the body as well as the soul.
Therefore, let us draw near to the throne of our gracious God, and say together: the general confession.

This realism delivers us from despair and doubt on one hand, and arrogance and familiarity on the other. The throne of our gracious God will keep us from both. From the former, because God has provided the means of grace through the death of his dear Son, and from the latter, because this gift can never be earnt, merited or deserved, but can only be received humbly by those who admit their sins and come with a penitent and obedient heart.

God’s grace is never cheap. It was costly to our Father in heaven and to his Son on the Cross, who bore our sin and its penalty. And grace received is demanding of us. We are to be constantly repentant. Which is far more demanding than mere regret or remorse. The penitent heart will be a broken heart, which under the influence of the Holy Spirit, becomes a re-directed heart, seeking thorough reformation. This is prayed for in the general confession:

And grant, merciful Father, for his sake, that we may live a Godly and obedient life, to the glory of your holy name and in the petition in the absolution or declaration of forgiveness: Therefore let us ask him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that we may now please him, and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy…

With this expectation, we are far more likely to honour God, grow in obedience and be an encouragement to each other than if we come carelessly, to be entertained or flattered. Nothing transforms and delights our hearts and minds like thankfulness, praise, openness to God’s word, read and expounded, and prayer for what is necessary for the body and the soul (our own and others). These worthy expectations will help us intentionally engage with God and each other, as we worship.

It has often been observed that our denomination has low expectations of its members. Whether that is true or not others must decide. But this exhortation certainly lifts the bar in such a way as to encourage us to be seriously dedicated to our gracious God. And why wouldn’t we want to be, to the One who graciously gave his all for us at Calvary?

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