Worship looks forward. Together we pray, "Thy kingdom come." In the earliest recorded post-Communion prayer, first-century Jesus-followers prayed, "Gather [your church] from the four winds, sanctified for your kingdom which you have prepared for it …. Let grace come, and let this world pass away …. Maranatha"—"O Lord, come."
Worship must also look back. Since early days, Christians gathered for worship have been, as Justin Martyr described it, reading "the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets," and afterward listening to the presider "instruct and exhort to the imitation of these good things."
Christian self-understanding has from the beginning been illumined both by what Jesus' closest followers wrote and by the Hebrew Scriptures that foreshadowed Jesus' work.
It is one of my pet peeves that orchestras at major Independence Day celebrations play only the final few minutes of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. I understand the need to keep the program moving, but without the rest of Tchaikovsky's music, the finale is "sound and fury, signifying nothing." It is only the climax.
The same is true of the Christian message. Without paying attention to what has gone before, the great final act may be thrilling, but incomprehensible. We are actors in a great drama, but we don't know how to play our roles unless we study the earlier acts the Playwright has written.
A recent news item disturbed me. The Church of England Synod voted to simplify its baptismal service to make it more understandable to the unchurched friends who attend baptisms. The Diocese of Liverpool clergyman who proposed the revisions complained that people just didn't understand references like this: "Through water you led the children ...