Ruth Meyers’s essay “Mission and Worship: Making the Connection” in the fall issue of Liturgy, explores the ways in which the church enacts its responsibility toward “the least among us” through worship. Here, she deals with the role of intercessory prayer.
Drawing from the well of tradition, missional worship attends to the context, incorporating elements of the local culture that reflect the gospel. Missional worship is counter-cultural when necessary, challenging injustice and oppression, critiquing and transforming cultural patterns in light of the gospel. Missional worship is also cross-cultural, celebrating the diversity of the body of Christ in many different contexts and uniting worshipers with Christians in other places.
Perhaps the most obvious place that worship is missional is in intercessory prayer, in which the assembly gives voice to the needs and hopes of the world, for example, for immigrants seeking refuge. This is liturgy as public work for the common good. By praying in, with, and through Christ, the assembly expresses its confidence that God does love the world, that God is at work healing the broken-hearted and restoring all creation to wholeness. The clearest scriptural command for Christians to intercede says: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone. . .” (1 Tim 2:1–2). Christians are to be concerned with the whole world, to pray “for everyone,” because, the letter-writer explains, God “desires everyone to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). Clement, bishop of Rome in the late first century, in contrast, shows particular concern for those who are poor or weak or in need. [Lucien Deiss, Springtime of the Liturgy (Liturgical Press, 1979), 82-85]
Save the afflicted among us, have mercy on the lowly.
Raise up the fallen, show yourself to those in need.
Heal the sick, and bring back those who have strayed.
Fill the hungry, give freedom to our prisoners.
Raise up the weak, console the fainthearted.
These ancient examples suggest that the prayers of the assembly are wide in scope. They address not only the needs of those gathered and those near and dear to members of the assembly, but the needs of the entire world.
Several years ago, I visited Franklin Reformed Church in Nutley, New Jersey. The pastor had been teaching the congregation to ask, when they heard about specific needs in their community, “Can I pray about that for you?” The congregation was beginning to get a reputation for this ministry, and strangers, not all of them Christian, began to call and ask for prayer. During the Sunday assembly, members of this small congregation would speak aloud a particular concern, and the pastor would then repeat that need and broaden it. For example, a prayer for a seventh-grader struggling in school would be extended to prayer for all school children in the community. Intercessory prayer such as this is missional, joining God’s concern for those in need, turning the hearts and minds of the assembly to God’s call to work for justice.
. . . In the public service that is liturgy, the assembly responds to God’s self-giving for the life of the world. Gathered by the Spirit, the assembly is drawn into Christ’s liturgy, the paschal mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. In this public service, the assembly enacts and signifies God’s reconciling love for all creation.
Ruth Meyers is dean of Academic Affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, a member of the Core Doctoral Faculty at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, and author of Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission (Eerdmans, 2014).