What to Expect
Welcome to Lord’s Day worship at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (MAPC). We hope this commentary will acquaint you with our order of worship and help you understand the meaning of what we are doing when we come together to worship in the presence of the Risen Lord on the day that weekly commemorates His resurrection.
Our service is built around scripture, preaching, sacrament, and the faith community–the ways Jesus Christ is present among us when we gather for worship. Notice how central scripture is to this service, including lessons from both testaments, a sung psalm, and other portions of biblical texts that give shape and form to the service. Often, the hymns and anthems are also interpretations of biblical texts.
The Order of Worship
The order of worship is called a liturgy, a compound of two Greek words–laos and ergon–which quite literally means “work of the people.” What we do together in prayer and praise, listening for and responding to God, proclaiming and confessing our faith, and engaging in forms of self-offering during this time of worship, is our work in this service. This is service in a twofold sense: as we serve God in this liturgy, God also serves us–speaking to us with words of comfort, challenge and encouragement, and strengthening us to continue our work as Christ’s people in the world. Our work is strengthened by your presence as you join us in this service.
We believe that children bring gifts that are important in this worship service and they are encouraged to participate. We provide a children’s bulletin, clip board and colored pencils or crayons for their use during the service. Their worship handout is structured around the worship themes for the day and is another means of helping them worship. Following a Children’s Lesson, the youngest (through first grade) are welcome to return to the pews with their parents, or leave with a worship assistant, to continue worshiping in a manner and place more accommodating to their needs for movement and conversation. The Children’s Worship class continues in the Phillips Lounge, which is located directly behind the organ screen. The theme introduced in the Children’s Lesson is further explored. In addition, the Lord’s Prayer, Doxology and other portions of worship are taught to them so they can participate more fully once remaining in the service. During the hymn following the sermon, the children return to the Sanctuary so that they too may participate in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Upon finding your place in the Sanctuary, we invite you to briefly greet those near you, and then begin preparing yourself for the service. A Prayer of Preparation is offered at the beginning of our order of worship to help you center yourself and prepare for our encounter with God in Christ.
During the Organ Prelude, please continue your prayer and meditation as our organist leads us in prayer. This is not mood music–it is the beginning of corporate worship. The music has been carefully chosen to reflect the season, lessons, and themes of today’s service. Blessed with the artistry of our Director of Music & Organist, Andrew Henderson, and the Associate Director of Music, Mary Huff, preludes at MAPC include some of the greatest music ever written for the organ. Occasionally guest instrumentalists, as well as instrumentalists from our own church community, enhance this time of prayer and meditation with special music. This is also an appropriate time to look through the order of service. If you have children with you, this is a perfect time to help them begin to locate hymns, scripture lessons, creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, and responses such as the Doxology.
The worship leader greets the congregation in the ancient Christian Greeting, “The Lord be with you,” and leads the congregation in the Call to Worship using words of scripture proclaiming who God is and what God has done, reminding us that Christian worship centers on God and not ourselves. As we are here to thank and praise God, the choir leads us by singing, “Praise the Lord,” and we respond, “The Lord’s name be praised.”
The Processional Hymn is a strong hymn of praise and thanksgiving, selected for its ability to unite us in praise as well as tell of God’s greatness, majesty, love and goodness. The choir and other worship leaders process behind an uplifted cross as reminders that we are a people formed and redeemed by God’s living Word, Jesus Christ. All that we do in this service will be done in and through him. The asterisk in the bulletin indicates that those who are able to do so are to stand in the last few measures of the organ introduction.
Confession of Sin
Words of scripture call us to confess the reality of sin in our common and personal lives. After the unison Prayer of Confession there is silence for Personal Confession, followed by singing the church’s ancient hymn text, “Lord, have mercy upon us...,” using a congregational musical setting. We are then reminded of the promises of God’s love and redemption, and that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven and part of his new creation. As this Good News is proclaimed, we rise to sing either the ancient hymn of praise, Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth”) to one of the musical settings by MAPC’s Director of Music & Organist Emeritus, Dr. John Weaver, or a Response of Praise, using a stanza of an appropriate hymn or praise.
Following our response of praise, we are reminded of the new life to which Jesus calls us–to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves–through his summary of the law.
Peace: Because we have been reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, we are also called to be reconciled with one another. Having heard once again the assurance of God’s grace and pardon in our lives, and the new life to which we are called, we extend Christ’s peace to one another as signs of being reconciled and at peace with each other.
Service of the Word
A major part of Christian worship is listening for God’s Word through scripture readings, anthems, psalms, and the Word proclaimed in the sermon for the day. During this time, we are to listen for God to speak to us so that we may respond. At MAPC, we observe the Christian Year, which patterns worship after the life of Christ. Scripture lessons are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary–a table of scripture lessons used by Christian churches from many different denominations–which appoints an Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel lesson for each Sunday of the year. The preacher for the day selects one or several of these texts as the basis for the sermon. Not only does this give the service a scriptural center, it enables coordination and planning between preacher, worship leaders and musicians, and links us to the same scriptures which are being read on a given Sunday in many other churches.
Prayer for Illumination: Though the Bible is the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ and God’s word to us, Presbyterians believe it requires the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit for it to become God’s living word within us. This prayer calls upon the Holy Spirit to silence in us any voice but God’s own, that we may receive with joy what God is saying to us.
First Lesson: This comes from the oldest portion of the Bible, the Old Testament, which Christians share in common with Jews. Christians, however, order the books differently because of our differing theological perspective. Presbyterians believe that God continues to speak to us as well as witness to the Christ through these lessons, and that the New Testament cannot be understood apart from the Old.
Psalm: The book of Psalms is commonly called the prayer book of Israel. It is a collection of songs to be used both corporately and personally. Psalms can be sung or read both in unison and responsively, as well as used for personal prayer. During the Reformation in Geneva, John Calvin made provision for psalm texts to be set in paraphrased verse, which were sung in unison by the congregation in much the same way we sing hymns today. Most often the psalm in this service will continue this Reformed heritage and use, as such, a metrical setting, though occasionally a responsorial psalm text will be sung by a soloist and the congregation responds with a musical refrain.
Lesson for Young Christians: At the conclusion of the psalm, the children are invited to join the preacher for the day for a lesson. This may be an interpretation of the first lesson or instruction in some portion of the worship service. Often this is an occasion for teaching children about the sacraments. The dialogue between children and preacher is frequently a time in which we hear God speak to us “out of the mouths of babes.” Following prayer, the youngest children are taken to the Phillips Lounge to continue in worship at a pace and level more age-appropriate to them. The older children return to their pews.
Epistle Lesson: A portion of one of the letters written to the churches of the New Testament is read. These are among the earliest writings of the New Testament and contain not only important theological affirmations about Jesus as the Christ, but also instructions for how to live as Christ’s people. Frequently the lectionary will schedule the continuous reading of a book over a series of Sundays, so that the entire letter can be heard in much the same way it was heard being read in the church in the second half of the first century.
Gospel Lesson: From Advent through Pentecost, this lesson will be taken from the portion of the Gospel, which witnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry as he makes his way to Jerusalem for his death and resurrection and ascension. After Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, the lessons will focus on Jesus’ teachings. The lectionary focuses on one of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark or Luke) for an entire year, using the Gospel of John on occasions or in seasons when it is particularly appropriate. In this way, the major portion of one synoptic Gospel is read throughout the cycle of the Christian year, with each of the Gospels having been read once every three years.
Sermon: God’s Word is proclaimed, using the day’s biblical text as foundation for addressing the needs, concerns and questions of our day. Reformed Christians believe that God speaks to us as readily through the sermon as through scripture read and sung. Our church has a strong tradition of christocentric expository preaching, staying close to the biblical texts while proclaiming them in contemporary context, making application for daily living. The sermon may challenge, inform, encourage, comfort, and inspire, but always it will call for deeper commitment to faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The sermon will conclude either with a prayer asking God for grace to be more Christ-like, or by an acclamation or ascription of praise to God for the gift of his Word.
Responding to the Word in Self-Offering
Hymn: Having heard God’s Word, we respond in song and creed. Often this hymn will repeat major themes or points, which have been made in the sermon, or form a means of deepening one’s personal commitments.
The Creed is more than our own profession of faith; it is a proclamation of the faith of the church. The two creeds most commonly used are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed was adopted by the church in the fourth century, before various theological and political issues split the church. This is not only the oldest formal confessional statement of the church, it is the only one the entire Christian church shares in common. Our use of it witnesses not only to the Trinitarian nature of our faith, but also our conviction that despite denominational divisions, all Christians are one in Jesus Christ. Our use of this creed reminds us that Presbyterians have deep commitments to the healing of the divisions that remain a scandal in the church of Jesus Christ. The other creed we most frequently use is the Apostles’ Creed, a baptismal confession that developed in the western church over some five hundred years, and by the 8th century was also being used in worship to instruct the laity in the essentials of the Christian faith. On the Sundays when we celebrate a baptism or welcome new members, we use the Apostles’ creed in its traditional translation.
Baptism: The response to and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is also a sign and seal of God’s grace, which joins new believers to Christ and his body, the church. In Reformed worship, baptism is ordinarily celebrated in response to the proclamation of the Word in the midst of the worshiping community. When baptizing or when welcoming new members, we use the Apostles’ Creed.
Prayers of the People: We, each week, pray for all those things that God would have us ask for. We pray for the church, the nation and the world; we pray for those things that are of concern to us and to the world. We also pray for those who are sick, those who are grieving, and who are in any kind of need, naming each week those in the congregation who are hospitalized. These prayers are led by a pastor, who prays them as individual petitions, concluding, "Lord, in your mercy..." and the congregation responds, making it their prayer, "Hear our prayer."
Concerns of the Church: Announcements of important events in the life of the church, as well as a welcome to visitors are important parts of a faith community’s life.
Word in Action: Occasionally, one of the ministries or mission projects supported by MAPC is interpreted to the congregation in this brief statement of how the members of MAPC are corporately seeking to respond to, live by and enact God’s word in New York City and beyond it into the larger world.
Offering: Another form of response to the proclamation of God’s word is the offering of our tithes and gifts to God. The money received in the offering is used for the support of the church–its staff, facilities and programs–as well as MAPC’s ministry: locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Through the gift of giving, worshipers are serving God in each of these places, and joining us in serving God in the name of Christ in this place.
Offertory Anthem: Through the gift of music, the gospel is proclaimed by our choir. Most often, the anthem is an interpretation of one of the scriptural texts for the day, though the text may also reflect the great wealth of inspired religious poetry from across the centuries. The music that is sung by the choirs at MAPC covers a range of sacred choral repertoire from the Renaissance to the present day.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: Celebrated weekly at each service, the sacrament is both a commemoration of Christ’s last supper before his betrayal and death, and an enactment of his table fellowship with followers after his resurrection. For the Reformed tradition, the Lord’s Supper is a time of joyful thanksgiving (Eucharist) and holy encounter (Communion) with our Risen Lord in which we are nourished by his real presence. Through bread and wine the Risen Lord gives us the gift of himself–his body and blood–to nourish and strengthen us in faith and faithfulness. The Eucharistic prayer begins with the ancient invitation “Lift up your hearts,” and continues with blessing and thanking God for the gift of his Son, and Christ’s faithfulness. The history of God’s acts of salvation is remembered in prayer, and we respond with the celestial hymn of thanks as well as acclamations of belief. We then ask that God’s Spirit use the bread and wine to feed us with Christ himself. The prayer concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, which is sung to a modern translation or is spoken using the traditional Tudor English translation. Bread is broken, wine poured, and worshipers are invited to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” The sacrament is served in one of several ways at MAPC. Worshipers may come forward, down the center aisle, to receive bread and then either dip their bread in a cup of juice (in a crystal goblet) or wine (in a brass chalice). Or they may eat the bread upon reception and then drink from the cup of wine. Those who are unable to come down the aisle, or who prefer to receive in the pew, are served bread and an individual cup of unfermented grape juice. During distribution the choir sings a brief communion anthem, and then leads the congregation is the singing of a Taizé or Iona song appropriate to the season of the Christian year. After all have communed, we conclude in prayer thanking God for the gift of the meal, and praying for Christ’s final coming. Baptized Christians of any age or church affiliation are welcome at Christ’s table, where Christ himself is the host.
The processional cross leads the choir and other worship leaders from the chancel as the congregation sings the final hymn.
After words of exhortation to the congregation, the pastor offers final words of Blessing, using one of several Trinitarian Benedictions, and we are sent forth to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
An Organ Postlude is played, suitable for dismissal, as worshipers greet one another and make their way from the Sanctuary to a time of further fellowship, or go to the Narthex to greet the preacher for the day.