In our postmodern society we hear a lot about the importance of narrative. There is nothing all that remarkable about that emphasis; telling stories to recount important events and pass on values and knowledge has been integral to all communities throughout history. The postmodern twist, however, is that each person is able to make up their own story and to interpret or reinterpret the grand narrative as they like. Though touted as being the key to true freedom, the end result is like trying to build a house on a sandpit—it doesn’t work. In contrast, Christianity provides a strong foundation: a common narrative of creation-fall-redemption, recorded in Scripture and echoed in each of our lives; and like all good stories it is meant to be told.
Telling Our Common Story
In the Old Testament, God often commanded the Israelites to set up memorials or institute feast days so that their stories would be told. One such occasion is found in Joshua 4. After the Israelites had passed through the Jordan River on dry ground God commanded them to set up twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes. “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Josh. 4:21-24, NRSV).
In the New Testament, God again gave us ways in which to be reminded of his grace in his church and in our own lives. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated in the midst of a community at worship, and worship at its very basic is the retelling of the gospel message. God calls us into his presence; we respond with thanksgiving; aware of our sinfulness we confess our sin and receive forgiveness; we hear God’s word and are invited to God’s table; and we respond by offering our lives and receiving God’s blessing as we are sent out for a life of service. Every time we gather we are retelling this story in community.
Finding Ourselves in the Story
The key for worship planners and preachers is to help the congregation find themselves in the story. Is this their story? Are they included in it? Essentially, that’s what this issue of Reformed Worship is about—helping people of various generations find themselves in the gospel story and the community of the gospel.