When you go to church on Sundays, what are you doing? What are you doing in terms of our struggle against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12) Are you falling back and regrouping or is it a concentration of firepower? That depends on the content and structure of the service you attend.
Most general protestant or non-liturgical services tend to characterize themselves as a time to “get refueled for the fight.” This metaphor makes sense considering these services generally provide a passive experience for those in the pew. The most they are usually expected to do is to sing along with the “worship team,” give financial offerings, and greet one another. In some services, they may be asked to share prayer requests and on certain Sundays, they may be served communion. Besides that, they listen. They listen to scripture, to a sermon, and sometimes to special music—a song they aren’t expected to sing along with.
This is all quite passive, which is why they tend to see it as a time of rest. Come in, sit down, we’ll sing a little, and then you can just listen. It is rare in a service of this type for the laity to be expected to pray, at least out loud or in unison. There is almost never corporate confession, either of faith or of sin. The focus is on some teaching by the preacher that will “equip them” as they “go out” into the world.
A liturgical service, like that found in the Book of Common Prayer, is quite different. Yes, there is still singing, offering, and greeting. There is a sermon, or homily, that is generally shorter. There is much more scripture read, including a Psalm that is shared corporately, usually in a responsive manner. Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel passages are also read every week. There is a corporate confession of faith with the Nicene Creed. There is corporate confession of sin in the general confession, with absolution granted by the celebrant. And there is much prayer.
The service has the same Collect for Purity near the beginning every week. While the celebrant prays, all may pray along since they will have learned it through repetition. There is a Collect of the Day, which the parishioners will carry forward with them through the week in their observance of the Daily Offices. There are the Prayers of the People, during which the needs of the church and the world are covered. These are normally led by a layperson, symbolizing that these encapsulate the people’s prayers. All are given time to add specifics after each petition and they affirm the petition responsively.
Then there is the Eucharist. This is not just the distributing of elements, but is a part of the Great Thanksgiving, an extended prayer that praises God with the gift of Jesus Christ in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The bread and the wine are consecrated and the people come forward to receive them. The Lord’s Prayer and The Prayer of Humble Access is said corporately as well as the Post-Communion Prayer. But here again, as the prayer is standardized, the congregation can follow along and pray with the celebrant. Finally, the people are blessed and sent out into the world.
Not only are those in the pew participants in this service, they are participating primarily through prayer. This emphasis on prayer not only benefits the people, but it is an assault against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Sunday is not the only day we storm the gates of Hell, but it is certainly a powerful attack. The people are sent out to love and serve the Lord for another week and to carry forth the battle in their homes, families, workplaces, and everywhere else they venture. It is not without refreshment; the confessions, scriptures, teaching, and Eucharist feed our bodies and souls.
May we remain on the offensive. May we continue to take the fight to the enemy. May we never rest until every tribe and nation have heard, until every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and Satan is trampled underneath our feet.