Essence and order
Related to my weekly communion jaunt, a friend asked whether I see communion as central to the liturgy, and what elements of the service ought to be present weekly.
As to which facet of corporate worship is central, I’m not sure we can identify that any more than we can identify which leg of a stool is central. I do see communion as the celebratory climax of the service, but no less important is Jesus himself speaking a word to his people through the mouths of his representative heralds (consider how it is that Jesus preaches peace to the Ephesians in 2:17).
The notion of worship as covenant renewal helps to answer the question of what is essential and even in what order these facets ought to appear. It is interesting that the New Testament portrays the church more as the new temple (2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:21) and the new Zion-Jerusalem-assembly (Heb. 12) than the new synagogue. New covenant worship is the explicit heir of the old covenant’s sacrificial worship (Rom. 12:1, Heb. 13:10–16). We ought to look closely at how models like Sinai (consecration, word, meal with God) and the sacrificial system (the order of which is always purification offering, ascension & tribute, peace offering meal) translate into the new covenant. Other obvious covenant renewals like Deuteronomy and Ezra-Nehemiah are useful here; so too are David’s liturgical reforms that overlay sacrifice with song; and Revelation, however obscure, nevertheless gives us a heavenly pattern for organized corporate worship. Kline and others have done work analyzing the structure of Biblical covenants that is helpful here. But even considering only Sinai and the sacrificial system it seems evident that we ought to have a minimal pattern of confession-absolution; followed by ascension in song to bring tribute and hear a word from our commander-king-husband; and closing with a meal. (It seems possible to link these three legs of the stool with the offices of Jesus, and also with the members of the Trinity.) In addition to these three, a good case can be made as well for a kind of call and commissioning as opposite book-ends of the service.
How do we integrate this order of worship with 1 Cor. 14, where everyone is to bring a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue, or interpretation? These fit with the central “ascension” portion of the service: the song and tithe and word. Obviously that leaves unanswered questions of what these things look like in detail, and what their specific place and proportion is.
Returning to the question of what is central in worship: it is Jesus who stands behind both word and food; worship is an actual going–up to meet with him. If he has spiritual eyes, who does the worship leader see when he turns around on the Lord’s day? It is Jesus (Rev. 1:10ff). Who is the true worship leader? It is Jesus (Heb. 2:12).