There is one additional “introductory” thing I’d like you to think about before we start talking about the actual parts of our worship. Specifically, let’s think for just a minute about language. The Jewish people spoke Hebrew. Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic [and probably Hebrew and a bit of Greek and Latin, given where he lived]. St. Paul spoke Greek and undoubtedly read Hebrew and probably knew Latin. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Most of the foundation pieces of our worship liturgy was written in Latin which, in some places, reflect on things probably originally written in Hebrew and Greek. In the 1600’s, Luther translated the worship liturgy into German. Later in that century, Thomas Cranmer made the most famous translation into English.
I hope you can begin to see that the words we say on Sunday morning have a very complex history. One of the challenges is that every translation is an interpretation. Another challenge is that language is a living thing. Words can shift in their meaning and intention. How language is used can change. Finally, people who put worship together walk a fine line between creating a worship language of poetry and “otherworldliness” and familiarity and contemporary understanding. Frankly, it’s all a lot harder than it looks!
One of the things we find in worship language is that there are attempts to make the flow of the words eloquent and poetic. One reason for this is that there is something unique about what we do and say in our worship liturgy. The other is that the poetry helps make the words memorable. Poetry helps the words imprint themselves on our hearts and minds.
One final thing to think about when we think about language and worship are the words we use for God. There are a number of challenges here. Many of the traditional words used for speaking of God are masculine [although there are a few notable feminine images for God in the Bible as well]. Over the past 30 years or so, there has been some intention to try to understand that God is not male or female in the same way humans are. Too, many people have found purely masculine images of God to be exclusionary and even limiting of our understanding of God. Our worship language tries to understand and respect this challenge.