Table-Centered Worship and the Sermon

photo by Crystal Balogh
As I thought about what I might share this morning, I read Mark Love's blog post about shifting the locus of worship planning from sermon-centered to Table centered. Mark created a survey, which I participated in, that asked worship planners about their process.  The consensus was that planning on the sermon.  All of this was in preparation for Rochester College's annual Streaming Conference. After reading and interacting with Jamie Smith, Mark began to formulate a new paradigm.  

Mark is Church of Christ and I'm Disciples of Christ. We are of the same heritage, but different branches. Disciples have become more liturgical over time, especially since the 1960s. Still, we have share some habits that go back to earlier days -- prior to separation.  One of those habits is passing communion down rows.  

I want to quote a paragraph from Mark's post, and invite you to read further his post, because it's quite good and provocative. 

What if the service was built around the Lord’s Supper? And by that I mean, what if the planning and design of the service revolved around making the new social arrangements of the gospel visible? OK, let me explain a little. Surely part of the significance of the gospel is that the welcome of God cuts across ways of sorting the world by ethnicity, gender, age, class, etc. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. The Spirit has been poured out on all flesh which means that men and women, old and young, servants both male and female, will prophesy (to paraphrase Acts 2). All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, without distinction.
To move in this direction we might have to abandon our habit of passing plates down rows and move to getting up and going to Table. The Anglican in me is up for that!!   I would like our communion prayers to be more liturgically developed as well, but that's another post. 

I do want to address the question of planning worship around the sermon.  It might be most helpful for me to share my process of worship planning. So here goes:

  • I usually follow the lectionary, but not always. I pick text and title several months out (I'm planned out now through the end of the year).  I share this information with the worship committee and music minister so they know where I'm going sermon wise. So, in a sense the sermon comes first.
  • On Mondays I usually lay out the service, choosing calls to worship, hymns, and the prayer after communion. If I'm preaching from the lectionary I turn to a number of resources that offer calls to worship, hymn suggestions, and possibly a post-communion prayer.  For the most part the service follows a template that doesn't change much. We start with gathering song and call to worship, an opening hymn, an invocation, and anthem. Then we move to listening to the Word, through the reading of scripture and sermon, followed by a hymn and pastoral prayer. Following this we move to the Table (hymn first, then offering, and then Table), then we move from Table to a time of sending -- hymn and benediction.  
  • As for sermon writing, I usually will read the text on Monday and make notes. Tuesday I'll do some commentary work, and then on Wednesday and Thursday begin writing, and then I finish on Saturdays, preaching on Sunday.  
From this you can see that the sermon plays an important part in the process, but for the most part it's the lectionary rather than the sermon that guides (most Sundays) prep.  But to move toward fully centering on the Table probably requires something more. I'm eager to enter into that conversation.  Of course, to be Table-centered doesn't mean doing away with the sermon, but perhaps sermon prep will be guided by the Table.  

I will note that liturgically, the service moves toward the Table, which is where everything culminates, before we're sent out into the World. 


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