These short articles are the fifth, sixth and seventh in a series of bulletin inserts on corporate worship at Trinity URC. Full Series (to date)–>HERE
The Call to Worship
At the very outset of the worship service, the Call to Worship reminds us that God is our covenant King and we are his people. In the Ancient Near East, the Great King would call upon his servant and it was his servant’s role to respond with the response of faithful submission, “Here I am!” It was the King’s prerogative to call, and the servant’s responsibility to respond. This was the only means by which a servant may approach the king and live.
This is well illustrated in the Book of Esther, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court of the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live (Esther 4:11).” In the Call to Worship we are weekly being called into the inner court of the King of kings, Christ Jesus himself is the golden scepter extended to us that we may live. And once we are in his presence he proclaims to us forgiveness, grace, and love!
All of this serves as a visible promise to us that on the last day we will be called into the King’s presence to fellowship with him for eternity. God is doing the work of creating for himself a redeemed people each week, and all those who hear and respond to the call are the fruits of that work. This highlights for us our responsibility but also our great privilege in worship. God is the one who calls us and as his servants it is our duty to faithfully be present each Sunday to respond. But what greater joy is there than knowing that the living God who dwells in unapproachable light, has invited you to approach him through the Lord Jesus Christ?
Not only does the call to worship put on display the sovereignty of God in worship, but it is also serves to preach to us gospel grace right at the very beginning of our service. Though an honest examination of our hearts will prove that none of us are worthy to ascend the hill of the LORD, still, God calls us to come near because we are in Christ. Christ is the way by which we approach the unapproachable God with confidence.
“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).”
At the start of the worship service we are called into the inner courts of the King, his golden scepter is extended to you because you have been made righteous and worthy through the work of Jesus Christ. Come! “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise! (Psalm 100:4)”
We have seen that corporate worship is a dialogue or conversation between God and his people. The service begins with God, our covenant King, calling us into his throne room in Christ. As his servants, we respond with the invocation. The word “invocation” comes from the Latin “invocare” which simply means “to call upon” (in meaning “upon” + vocare meaning “to call”). As we enter the throne room of our Great King, we call upon him. Since the time of the Reformation the passage that has been used most often in Protestant churches for the invocation are the final words of Psalm 124: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8). These are some of the best words with which to respond to the call of our great King—they are most fitting as the first words of our lips in the throne room of our God.
Psalm 124 opens with a most fearful prospect: the thought of the Lord not being on our side. If the Lord was not on our side, David says, “then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters” (vv. 4-5). The imagery here is that of the Flood and the Red Sea. If the Lord was not on our side, we would be consumed like the inhabitants of the world in the Flood and like the Egyptians in the Red Sea
Psalm 124 goes on to praise the Lord for deliverance with vivid imagery: “Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped” (vv. 6-7). The imagery is significant. Whereas water was the dominant image in the first stanza, a bird is the dominant image in the second stanza. Noah knew that the Lord had brought him and his family safely through the waters of the Flood by sending forth a dove (Gen. 8:8-12). When the Lord led his people through the waters of the Red Sea, he bore them up on eagle’s wings (Deut. 32:11). The response to both of these great deliverances was worship: Noah built an altar (Gen. 8:20-22) and the children of Israel sang the Song of Moses (Exodus 15). In Psalm 124:8 David sang to the Lord.
What better way to respond to the Lord’s call to worship than with these words of invocation? We call upon the name of the Lord—his covenant name—the name that reminds us that though we are faithless, he remains faithful. We then confess him as the Maker of heaven and earth. There is none more powerful than him, and he is our help.
Because the Lord is on our side, the waters will never overcome us, not the waters of the Flood nor the Red Sea, not even the judgment to come, for “the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1). There, in the new heavens and new earth we will stand on the sea of crystal as we sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Rev. 15). There, we will know for all eternity that the Lord is our Help, our King, and our Deliverer.
As you take the words of the invocation upon your lips in response to God’s call to worship, do so with the joy of knowing that here you are being given a foretaste of that eternal day. Danger and trial may surround you on every side, but the Lord is on your side.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trials to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
Scripture presents worship to us as a conversation. God initiates this conversation with us through the call to worship and we respond with words of invocation. Already we have been summoned into the courts of the King, and we have called upon his name. In the ancient world, if one were called into the courts of the king, they would wait with baited breath to hear the intentions of the ruler. Would the king speak words of judgement, or of peace – words of death or words of life? Since we do not presume to put words into God’s mouth, His greeting must come directly from His Word. God’s greeting is most frequently taken from the New Testament epistles of Paul. Once more in this holy conversation God speaks and the words he speaks to us are words of grace and peace.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:3).”
In worship, when the minister speaks the words of greeting, he raises his hands. This is because in this moment, the minister is taking upon his lips the words of holy Scripture and speaking on God’s behalf. In the Old Testament, when the priest would raise his hands he would place God’s blessing upon the people of Israel (Leviticus 9:22).
With the words of the greeting we hear the intentions of the Great King. He assembles us in His presence that He might bless us. At the very opening of worship, God reveals to us His gospel grace. Our hearts may be at peace and our consciences may be at ease, because though we are sinners, God’s first word to us in worship is “Grace!” So let us rejoice this morning as we hear God’s call and his greeting knowing that He has brought us here to meet with us for our good and to bless us in Christ!
Austin Reed and Rev. Brian Vos