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More than words

November 21, 2008
For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt.

Last week our family was enjoying a meal together with some friends in a local restaurant when our youngest daughter said matter of factly,

You can eat here on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday, but you can’t eat here on Sunday – they are closed.

She was right, but I couldn’t figure out how in the world she knew that. So I asked her:

How do you know that?

Olivia grinned from ear to ear and pointed to a big menu on the wall and said,

It says it, right there!

The menu was approximately 5 feet by 6 ft and covered in print with every food item available at the restaurant listed.

Olivia is a new reader with a ravenous appetite for print. While the rest of us had been eating and talking, she was reading the menu. Not only was she reading the menu (6×5 covered in print and not that easy to follow – especially for a new reader), but she was taking the information and applying it.

It has been a delight to watch a new world open up to Olivia as she emerges more into the world of print. Anything with writing on it is fair game in Olivia’s world – cereal boxes, the tags on clothes in the store, an instruction manual, directions online, street signs, speed limit signs, the list could go on for a very long time.

As I reflect on the material I’ve read, watched and listened to media regarding the languages of eucharist and baptism, I feel my experience mirrors that of Olivia’s – not merely reading the material, but taking the information and looking how it applies to my life.

What I’ve discovered this week creates new understanding for me in regard to these languages. This new understanding opens up a new world in regard to my relationship with God and the worship I offer to Him. If you’ll investigate with me, I suspect that you may have a discovery similar to Olivia’s and mine.

Sacramental worship is distinguished by its use of sign-acts, that is acts that convey meaning.¹

Sacraments are a type of sign that involve acts, words and usually objects.²

For the sacrament of baptism, words include the ones written by the individual being baptized telling what their life is like in Christ; the words spoken by the pastor right before baptizing the individual. The acts included the immersion into the water and being brought back up and the object is the water itself.

For the eucharist (communion), words are the passages of scripture read, acts involve taking the elements, the elements themselves are the objects.

Our worship is our response to God’s initiation in our lives. As God initiates and reveals Himself to us through these sacraments, we experience God’s love – his self giving through sacramental worship.  We need to be shown His love again and again. (See the post of remembering and forgetting).

The next time you or I are given the opportunity to worship God through sign-acts, may we delight in what God reveals to us as we remember and experience His love.

¹James White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000),175.
²James White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000),175.
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