Avodah- A Messianic Approach to Liturgy
Avodah- A Messianic Approach to Liturgy
By Rabbi Barney Kasdan
Â Â Â Â Â We seem to live in a generation which prides itself in its self-sufficiency. Whatever looks good to the individual; whatever spontaneous response comes from my feelings; this hasÂ tended to be the response in our post-modern society.
Â Â Â Â Â It is not surprising that many of these same values have carried over into our modern approach to worship. While there is certainly a proper place for individuality and spontaneity in worship, it seems there is a potential for some blind spots as well. I have met a number of believers who resist any liturgical format because it is too â€œstructuredâ€. But I wonder if such people donâ€™t miss a rich element in the larger picture of worship.
Perhaps we should first ask â€œwhat is liturgy?â€ The biblical word is derived from two greek words; â€œlaosâ€ meaning people, and â€œergonâ€ meaning work. A common Hebrew term that is similar is â€œavodahâ€ which means service. It was the term applied to the priesthood as they served in the Temple. All this gives us an insight into how G-d defines worship through liturgy – worship is not a performance that we observe, but a service that we do! And it may surprise some people how often worship through a structured liturgy is mentioned in the Scriptures.
Â Â Â Â Â In the Templeperiod, many special readings and liturgical meditations developed as an expression of Jewish worship. Even hundreds of years before the coming of Yeshua certain prayers were common; the Shema (Duet 6:4-9), the Amidah (18 benedictions, later changed to 19 because of the early Messianic Jewsâ€¦but thatâ€™s another story!) and some scholars even believe such prayers as the Kaddish and the Aleinu were in tact before the first century as well. Of course, we should not overlook the Psalms, the longest book of the Bible, which in essence is a book of liturgy! The fact that all these prayers were used and continue in the modern synagogue is common knowledge to anyone aware of Jewish tradition.
Â Â Â Â Â Did Yeshua and his early Jewish disciples reject this mode of worship? Judge for yourself. Yeshua consistently attended synagogue and the Temple(John 18:20). We are aware of His teaching ministry, but can you imagine Him being called upon as a respected rabbi if He did not enter into the liturgical worship of His day? For Him it must have been a beautiful expression of praise to the Father. As Yeshua was asked one day what was the greatest of all the commandments of Torah, what did He say? He quoted the Shema, which is the heart of the liturgical worship for the Jew (Mark 12:28-34). And how can we forget the â€œDisciples Prayerâ€ (Matthew 6:9-13) which is simply a summary of many Jewish prayers. You may want to compare Yeshuaâ€™s teaching to the Siddur (Jewish Prayer book) where you will find the following parallels:
â€œOur Fatherâ€ – 5th Benediction of the Amidah
â€œHallowed Be Thy Nameâ€ – the Kaddish
â€œThy Kingdom Comeâ€ – the Kaddish
â€œThy Will Be Done – the Kaddish
â€œGive Us Our Daily Breadâ€ – 9th Benediction of the Amidah
â€œForgive Us Our Debtsâ€ – 6th Benediction of the Amidah
Â Â Â Â Â It seems clear that Yeshua not only worshipped through the liturgy but also quoted it in the course of His teaching! Of course, He did warn of possible excesses and meaningless repetitions, but that had more to do with the heart attitude in worship than the content itself. When oneâ€™s heart is in tune with the Spirit of G-d, the liturgical expression can be a beautiful form indeed.
Â Â Â Â Â Not surprisingly, we find the early Jewish believers expressing their worship of G-d in similar forms. We are told that they met â€œday by day in the Templeâ€ (Acts 2:42-47), again implying active involvement in the traditional worship that they were accustomed to. In a fascinating note, it is even recorded that they were continually devotedâ€¦â€œto prayer.â€ The original language actually says â€œthe prayersâ€, implying that it was more than just an unstructured prayer meeting, but they still incorporated elements of â€œthe prayersâ€ of their traditional Jewish liturgy. They, like us, would not agree with all the theology of the traditional Siddur, but there is much we can agree with and incorporate in our Messianic faith.
Â Â Â Â Â By the way, perhaps we should be prepared for a somewhat liturgical service in the Messianic Kingdom. â€œAnd all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the 4 living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped G-d, saying, â€˜Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our G-d forever and ever. Amenâ€ (Revelation 7:11-12).
Â Â Â Â Â The traditional liturgy can be a beautiful vehicle for uniting us together in a spirit of praise. And the focus is not just our limited experience with G-d, but on the eternal truths of His Word. It makes sense, therefore, that even in eternity there will be a structure to our worship. I wonder how much of that will be similar to the structures already found in the Scriptures?
Â Â Â Â Â One of the primary goals of the Messianic movement is to follow the Messiah within a biblically balanced Jewish culture. As our hearts are filled with the Spirit of G-d, it would seem that liturgy and Messianic worship can fit wonderfully together for the glory of Yeshua HaMashiach.