September 18, 2016
Does the Bible tells us anything about what worship looked like in Ancient Israel or First Century Palestine?
Short answer: No.
Longer answer: Maybe.
There are places in the Bible that tell us about worship indirectly. The Book of Leviticus is chock full of punishment, propitiation, and sacrificial instructions, which was a small part of the worship in ancient Israel. There are stories of animal sacrifice in Genesis, Exodus, 1 Kings, and other places. There are stories about private prayer in Daniel. There is the procession of the Ark into Jerusalem in 1 Kings. But there is no comprehensive description in the Old Testament of what a major worship service looked like.
Again, in the New Testament there are hints about worship, which continue to influence us today. There is Acts of the Apostles: 2:45-47 broadly describing the early worship of the Jerusalem community around visits to the Temple, the breaking of bread in homes, and the praising of God. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-31, Paul instructs the church about community practices at the table which sound a great deal like the precursor to our Eucharistic service.
1 Peter: 2:4-5, is a theological reflection on the transformation of the People of God (i.e. the Church) from a hierarchy of the specialized Priests in the Temple and everybody else to a community of the Priesthood of all believers, a concept emphasized in the Reform Church of Germany under Martin Luther and adopted early on by the theologians of the Church of England, including Thomas Cranmer. We see its effect on our services with the BCP 79's designation of the Presider as "the principal celebrant," (p. 354) intending to designate the whole body of the congregation as celebrants as well. And we are using this emphasis when we encourage the gifts of the People, alms, bread, and wine, be brought to the altar table at the Presentation and presented both by persons from the congregation and the ushers.
Scripture is ever in our minds when designing worship and using the language of symbolism in communicating our theology in worship together. Our design is to emphasize the community of all believers at St. Francis.
The Rev. David Lucey