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Bewailing Our Manifold Sins: The Service Of Word And Table IV For Lent
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Our Lenten sermon series at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church is titled “Jesus the Stranger”and will focus on the various ways the people around Jesus during his ministry missed or misunderstood his mission and purpose. My contention is that we tend to miss or misunderstand him as well because our expectations often get in the way. We expect a Jesus who looks like us, acts like us, is concerned about the same things as us, and who has the same political and social worldview as us. Lent invites us to suspend our expectations and lean into the real Jesus, discovering how his ministry, his death, and his resurrection reveals not only his true identity as the fully human and fully divine Son of God, but also the kind of humanity we were created to be. The series begins on Ash Wednesday, March 2.


One of the ways we can suspend our expectations is by using different liturgies in worship that highlight different aspects of Jesus’ mission and our response. Our liturgical tradition provides us with various liturgies that can unlock deeper meaning for us as we engage them over time. To that end, we’re going to be using an older liturgy for Holy Communion during Lent that taps into the story of Jesus in a new way but also grounds us in our theological roots.


The liturgy is titled “A Service of Word and Table IV” and can be found in The United Methodist Hymnalbeginning on page 26 (the link is to the full text, while the Hymnal only focuses on the Communion portion of the service). You’ll notice that this is “a traditional text from the rituals of the former Methodist and former Evangelical United Brethren churches,” which merged to form the United Methodist Church in 1968. It’s a liturgy that takes us back toward the Anglican roots of Methodism and John Wesley’s own abridgement of The Book of Common Prayer which he called The Sunday Service of the Methodists.


As we use this liturgy, you’ll notice right away that it uses very traditional language, some drawn from King James English. “Thee, thy, and thou” are not in heavy use as second-person pronouns today, but they convey a kind of reverence and formality to the liturgy that elevates it, in my opinion, and gives it a sense of holy uniqueness. The older English also invites us to slow down and consider what we are saying, focusing on the words and the beauty of the liturgy’s telling of the gospel story.


But there are also additional elements in Word and Table IV that I find to be helpful, especially during the Lenten season. The “Words of Assurance” that follow the Prayer of Confession and Pardon (where we “bewail our manifold sins and wickedness”) are also known as the “comfortable words”–words of comfort that our sin is truly forgiven when we confess and renounce them. Naming our sins and hearing the words of grace in a more formal language can help us to take each as seriously as God does.


The rhythm of the prayer of Great Thanksgiving for communion is also different, inviting more participation in the prayer and a more embodied sense of our worship as a sacrifice to God:


And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that all we who are partakers of this Holy Communion may be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction.


We also pray the “Prayer of Humble Access” before receiving the bread and cup, which orients our approach to the Table:


We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord, who property is to always have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of the Sacrament of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow in his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. 


Here we get the essence of Holy Communion as a means of justifying and sanctifying grace that enables us to “walk in newness of life,” to become more like Jesus, and to mutually dwell with him.


I encourage you to look through this liturgy prior to worship on Sundays during Lent, whether you are joining us in person or online. While we do not observe “online communion,” the prayers of this liturgy are sustaining in those times when we cannot be present in person with the church at the Table. If you are homebound and would like communion delivered to you after the service as an extension of the Table, please contact the church office to make arrangements (719-488-1365).


I look forward to sharing in this liturgy with you as we engage the story of Jesus during this Lenten season. Click here for information about the sermon series and here for information about our Wednesday night Lenten study, all of which will be available via live stream on all our platforms.

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