When we gather together on the Sabbath with our families or in our home fellowship groups, we usually don’t have a Hebrew-speaking cantor or the other benefits of a larger congregation reciting a Sabbath liturgy. You likely won’t have a Torah scroll in an Ark. You may have a shofar, but might not want to blow it very loudly in your living room. So in this post, I want to offer you an easy Sabbath liturgy suitable for use in a small home fellowship or similar Bible study. It doesn’t require someone with a knowledge of Hebrew, but instead uses some simple words and phrases that will be more meaningful as you worship.
Our English word liturgy comes from the Greek noun λειτουργία leitourgia (Strong’s Greek word #G3009) and appears in various forms along with the Greek verb λειτουργέω leitourgeo (#G3008) about nine times in the New Testament. Leitourgia is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew nouns מלאכה melakhah (#H4399) and עבודה avodah (#H5656), and leitourgeo is used to translate the verbs עבד avad (#H5647) and שׁרת sharat (#H8334). That’s maybe a bit much language detail, but you can look each of those up if you want.
According to Wikipedia, “Liturgy is the customary public worship performed by a religious group, according to its beliefs, customs and traditions. As a religious phenomenon, liturgy is a communal response to and participation in, the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication or repentance.” Sometimes people think of liturgy in a negative sense, much in the same way we seem to demonize the word religion. But when you understand the intent and real meaning of the words, this shouldn’t be the case. See my post regarding Religion and Relationship.
You and your sons will undertake the priestly duties in all that concerns the altar and all that lies behind the curtain. You will perform the liturgy, the duties of which I entrust to your priesthood (Numbers 18:7 NJB)
So that everyone is doing the same thing during a liturgy, many congregations will use a Siddur, a Hebrew word from a root meaning “order.” A Siddur is a Hebrew book of blessings and prayers in a set order, very much like the Book of Common Prayer used in some Christian services. It is designed to keep everyone on the same page and avoid random confusion. One very popular Siddur is The Complete Artscroll Siddur published by Mesorah Publications Ltd. However, for Messianic believers in Yeshua, a more suitable Siddur might be the Messianic Shabbat Siddur by Jeremiah Greenburg or the Prayer Book and Life Cycle Guide for Messianic Believers in Yeshua by William A. Berg. I review both of them here.
For home fellowships, trying to incorporate the extensive use of Hebrew used in the Synagogue liturgy might be overwhelming, not to mention meaningless. I like to listen to Hebrew and can usually pick out a few words here and there. I’ve listened to people who you could tell knew what they were saying, but I’ve also listened to those who were just reading transliterated syllables without understanding the words.
My goal with the liturgy presented here is to use limited transliterated Hebrew words and phrases, and to present them in a way that their meaning is clear. For longer passages, we will start with the first line or two in Hebrew, repeat them in English, and then continue with the rest of the passage in English. Some of them will be familiar chants or songs you can sing.
I have provided the liturgy in two parts. The first is intended for Erev Shabbat, Friday evening as the Sabbath is beginning. During this time, it is traditional to light candles and to bless Adonai with wine and challah (bread). The second part of the liturgy could continue on Erev Shabbat or be used separately during the day on the Sabbath. (We don’t light candles on the Sabbath day because of the command not to kindle a fire on the Sabbath.) You can view them and download them here.
The text is adapted primarily from the Messianic Shabbat Siddur, except for lighting the candles.
The traditional candle-lighting blessing (adapted from the Artscroll Siddur) says “Blessed are You, HASHEM our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Sabbath.” Some have pointed out that there is no Biblical command to light Sabbath candles. So here I will offer a Messianic adaptation, taken from Messianic Life Cycle Guide.
You may wish to add more to your liturgy. If in doing so you struggle with the Hebrew words, don’t let that become a distraction to your worship. Many of the blessings start the same way, so you can just say this first line in Hebrew, repeat it in English, then just finish the blessing or other passage in English.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe.
Erev Shabbat Liturgy
You can view and download A Simple Messinanic Erev Shabbat Liturgy here.
The first liturgy is for the evening as Sabbath begins. It is very short, and might be used before sitting down for the evening meal. The basic Erev Shabbat liturgy consists of only three blessings in a specific order:
The Lighting of the Candles (welcoming the Sabbath)
Kiddush – Blessing over the Wine (setting apart of the Sabbath)
Blessing over the Bread (partaking in the Sabbath)
Because these blessings are relatively short, I have included the complete Hebrew transliteration of each.
At the end of the Erev Shabbat liturgy I have included the Aaronic Benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. This may be offered both at the end of the Erev Shabbat celebration and at the end of the regular Sabbath service or study. This blessing is recited only by the leader who, as Numbers 6:27 says, is invoking the Name of the Almighty on those in the group with the promise that Adonai will bless them. As a Messianic adaptation, I like to also include the last two verses of Jude from the New Testament.
Messianic Sabbath Liturgy
You can view and download A Simple Messinanic Sabbath Liturgy here.
The second liturgy is a selected portion of the traditional Sabbath liturgy. If your home fellowship is meeting on Erev Shabbat, you can continue with this following the wine and bread or following the evening meal if you have one. If your home fellowship is meeting on the Sabbath day, this is where you begin.
The Simple Sabbath Liturgy includes these selected portions:
Barchu (The Call to Worship, based on 1 Chronicles 29:20 and Nehemiah 9:5)
The Blessing of the Messiah
Avot (from the Amidah or Standing Prayer)
The Lord’s Prayer
It is traditional to begin the liturgy with Ma Tovu, a selection of Scripture passages expressing love and reverence for the place where God’s glory resides. It begins in Numbers 24:5, followed by four passages in the Psalms – Psalm 5:8, Psalm 26:8, Psalm 95:6 and Psalm 69:14. One interesting point to note is that this first blessing in the Sabbath liturgy starts with words from a non-Hebrew pagan prophet (Balaam).
“All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:12).
An easy way to learn Ma Tovu is to chant or sing it, and a good example of this can be found on Paul Wilbur’s recording Shalom Jerusalem. Sing the first verse in Hebrew, then in English. Sing the second verse in Hebrew, then in English. Then recite the next three verses in English (this part is not on the Paul Wilbur recording).
The Barchu, which in Hebrew is the command form of the verb meaning to bless, is a responsive reading. The leader should read the first line in Hebrew, with everyone else responding with the second line in Hebrew. The leader then reads the first line again in English, followed by everyone else reading the second line in English.
V’shamru is the command to keep the Sabbath, quoted directly from Exodus 31:16-17. Again, to keep it simple and understandable, only the first phrase is in Hebrew. If you want to use more Hebrew, you can see the full transliteration of all of these blessings and more in the Messianic Shabbat Siddur.
The Blessing of the Messiah is an important part of the Messianic liturgy in which we bless Adonai for giving us the way of salvation in Messiah Yeshua. It is an appropriate blessing before saying the Shema, and is presented here in its entirety as found in the Messianic Shabbat Siddur.
The Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4, is the cornerstone of all Jewish liturgy. Yeshua himself identified the Shema as the greatest of all the commandments (Mark 12:28-30). It is traditional to stand facing in the direction of Jerusalem when saying the Shema.
“Listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive (1 Kings 8:30).
It is also traditional to bow slightly at both occurrences of the Divine Name, vocalized as Adonai.
The second line, which is not a direct quote from the Scriptures, is said either very quietly or not at all. The phrase baruch shem kevod l’olam is found in Psalm 72:19, where it is translated “blessed be His glorious name forever” (NASB) or “Blessed is His glorious Name forever” (Stone). Although the origin of the additional word malchuto (his kingdom) is unknown, the traditional English translation of the second line as used in Synagogue liturgy is “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever.” Many people, however, prefer to maintain the words closer to the text of Scripture and instead say, “Blessed is His glorious name, whose kingdom is forever and ever.”
After the quiet reciting of this second line, we return to “normal” volume and continue with the v’ahavta, Deuteronomy 6:5-9. I have included, in Hebrew transliteration, the portion that Yeshua mentioned in the passage from Mark mentioned above. V’ahavta means “and you shall love,” b’kol levavcha “with all your heart,” u’v’kol nafshecha “and with all your soul,” and u’v’kol m’odecha “and with all your might.” By limiting the Hebrew portion to only these words, you can better remember them and think about them as you say them. Then, continue with the rest of the passage in English.
At the conclusion of this passage from Deuteronomy is another v’ahavta passage from Leviticus 19:18, which Yeshua identified as the second greatest commandment (Mark 12:31).
The Amidah, or Standing Prayer, is considered the most important prayer in Jewish liturgy. It has nineteen different parts. Avot, “Fathers,” is the first of the nineteen, and blesses the God of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In keeping with the idea of limited Hebrew recitation, only the first line is presented in Hebrew transliteration and the meaning is pretty clear.
I offer part of the Amidah here with some hesitation – this is tradition and not taken from Scripture. It is very important that we keep Yeshua central in our worship, so I have taken this prayer from the Messianic Life Cycle Guide. Where the traditional text reads “and brings a redeemer,” it has been adapted to read “and brought Yeshua the Redeemer.”
The last part of the Avot, melech ozair, is sung in an easy to remember tune. You can hear it here.
Following the Amidah is the model prayer Yeshua taught in the Sermon on the Mount, traditionally called The Lord’s Prayer. The first line is presented in transliterated Hebrew, followed by the English text taken from Matthew 6:9-13 in The Complete Jewish Bible.
The final passage in this liturgy is Mi Kamocha, Who is Like You, from the Song of Moses:
“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD?
Who is like You, majestic in holiness,
Awesome in praises, working wonders?
The English text used in this liturgy is from the Messianic Shabbat Siddur. Mi Kamocha is often sung in Hebrew and then in English, usually varying slightly from what is printed here with the second line as “Who is like You, Lord, there is none else?” This selection by Paul Wilbur on the CD Up To Zion (which is now out of print) will give you an idea of the tune. Listen to it here.
You will no doubt find many options for a home fellowship Sabbath liturgy if you choose to use one. This is just one, and has been assembled with the hope that you will learn enough Hebrew to experience the beauty of the liturgy without stumbling over words. My prayer is that it brings you closer to our Heavenly Father.
Baruch HaShem (Blessed is the Lord).
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation
Liturgy pages can be freely downloaded and used for personal or corporate worship. I you find any errors in the text, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.