I need more bookends in my life. Those of you who have seen my office know why I need more bookends. Whenever I unpack a box of books and place them on a shelf, I do so according to category / topic. I might fill one or more shelves with biblical commentaries, church history texts, or other topics, but when I place the last book for a particular topic on a shelf, I like to add a bookend. And if that happens in the middle of a shelf, I start the next category / topic with another bookend. When I look at my shelves, those bookends give order and structure to what would otherwise be a confusing, never-ending procession of printed pages.
I need more bookends not only on my bookshelves, but in the rest of my life as well. Life is not as neat and orderly as I like bookshelves to be. Life is messy, at times seeming like a confusing, never-ending procession of predicaments and pitfalls. Imposing order upon life is impossible, but adding a few more bookends might help me to make sense of more things in life.
Most of you have probably read or heard Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (“For everything there is a season…”), but have you read what follows?
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end… I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him… ~ Eccl. 3:9-11, 14
Perhaps this was the Preacher’s way of saying that life has some bookends (“everything beautiful in its time”), but mankind “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” because he cannot know the future. As human beings, we want to know where things start and where they end so that we can better understand everything that happens between the two. But what we desire to know, we cannot know, because we are not God. Only he knows the beginning from the end because he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8 and 22:13 – once again, bookends!).
At this point, you might be thinking, “Great, our pastor has an odd predilection for bookends! So what? What does this have to do with our study of the Church – Upward, Inward, Outward?” Bookends, those markers of beginning and end that help us to make sense of things in between, are helpful. If we know how, where, when, why something begins and ends, we better understand the content between the two bookends.
The same is true in the Church. Bookends are helpful and important for understanding worship. Two sets of bookends pertinent to our current discussions occur (1) in corporate worship and (2) on the Lord’s Day.
In corporate worship, the call to worship and benediction are the bookends, the beginning and the end. Those “holy bookends,” in turn, add richer meaning to everything between the two. Our discussion last Sunday evening focused on the elements of worship, why they are regulated, and the progression in corporate worship. This Sunday evening, it will focus on participation in worship. Are there any limitations or regulations for who can lead elements of worship? The bookends should provide a clue.
On the Lord’s Day, how do you know the beginning from then end? Before beginning this teaching series, we at CPC tried a few different things on Sunday afternoons and evenings (prayer time, dinners, etc.). Sure, we could hold these events on other days of the week just as easily, but some of you probably heard me say at some point, “We need to have something on Sunday afternoons / evenings.” Why? Bookends! Without having some type of corporate gathering on Sunday evenings, how can we know the beginning of the Lord’s Day from the end? If there is no beginning or end, what distinguishes our activity on Lord’s Day (the Christian Sabbath) from our activity on all other days of the week? What makes corporate worship on the Lord’s Day any different than “my worship on Tuesday”?
My understanding of worship and of the Lord’s Day still has much room for growth and improvement, yet I have an ever-increasing appreciation of how intimately the two are related – and how helpful it is to understand them in terms of bookends. On the one hand, the Bible nowhere states, “Thou shalt have a Sunday evening service!” On the other hand, the Bible gives clear precedent for needing bookends, especially on “holy days.” Here are a few examples:
- Creation (Gen. 1) – days 1-6, “And there was evening and there was morning, [this] day”; the same is not said about the seventh day (another topic for another time!)
- Sacrificial system – morning and evening sacrifices (Ex. 29:38-42; Lev. 1:1-17; Num. 28:1-15); though there were still sacrifices on the Sabbath, again it was different (Num. 28:9-10)
- OT Sabbath – “to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night” (e.g. Ps. 92)
- Special sabbaths (e.g. the Day of Atonement; Lev. 16)
Can you think of other examples of bookends in the Bible? If so, please share them this Sunday evening!
In closing, thank you all again for attending on Sunday evenings (as we learn together how to love and value bookends)!
I commend the following articles to you in preparation for this Sunday evening:
If you wish to read more about the current debates in the PCA regarding non-ordained members (including women) leading worship, here are some additional resources. (Caution: They are detailed, lengthy treatments of the issue and need to be read in their entirety, not just skimmed.)