Worship: Duane W. H. Arnold, PhD
Worship, for Christians, is perhaps the greatest mystery. We worship alone, we worship in the company of others. We worship in silence, we worship with our voices. We worship in stillness, we worship with gestures. We worship in a small room, we worship in a soaring cathedral. We worship in times of triumph, we worship in times of tragedy. Worship is complimentary, yet worship is a paradox.
Our worship is of God our Father, in his Son, through the Holy Spirit who has been poured out upon us. In worship, each word, each gesture is a thread that is plaited with the thread of others, seen and unseen, bringing us ever more securely into the threefold unity of God. In spite of the distance between humanity and divinity, God’s initiative reaches out to us in multiple inextricable ways to which Christ opens the way of response. That response is worship. Who would wish to cut those threads that bind us – to each other, to God?
The truth is that we become like what we worship.
So, we direct our worship to God. The words and images that flow through our minds channel the current of our thoughts and find their culmination in the last words of our prayers as we say, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” The end of the prayer becomes the beginning. The words of doxology become a theme which constantly sounds in each note of music, each uttered prayer. It sounds a refrain for psalms of our own making. In each sung and spoken word, in each silence and each gesture, unknown to ourselves in the course of our lifetime we are being changed – “changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (II Cor. 3:18).
The spirit of worship springs from reverent awe.
There is an acute awareness of the transcendence of God that fills worship with awe, that rare quality that should truly be kept for divinity alone, for the one who is beyond compare or comparison. In two of the churches in which I have served, there were families from the Indian subcontinent. In each case, when they move forward to receive communion, they remove their shoes, for they realize better than others that they are walking on holy ground, like Moses before a flaming bush, glimpsing an opening into eternity.
“Let us now lay aside all the cares of this life” the Orthodox Church has continued to sing, as the most solemn moment of the liturgy approaches.
“Let us now lay aside all the cares of this life” in severe persecution.
“Let us now lay aside all the cares of this life” in the midst of unemployment, sickness and death.
“Let us now lay aside all the cares of this life” as we grow old, losing our clarity of mind.
We lay the cares aside, real, painful and incomprehensible as they are, by setting them down in the perspective of the things of eternity, the values which cannot be shaken. In worship we are made aware that God IS. No cosmic catastrophe, no power of evil, no violence of men, no politics of hatred can destroy the living and eternal God. There is in God a point of arrival, a place of rest for the turbulence of time, beyond the category of time itself. Therefore we fall silent with all the company of heaven and worship him.
At the heart of the Trinity is a self-emptying love which is itself the current of life between the Three Persons, which transforms the center point of apparent death into the place from which all life springs. To pour himself out, to give himself away, and yet to be love through the very giving is part of God’s eternal nature. Yet, God is not only transcendent, he is also immanent, involved in the realities of his creation, in the realities of lives lived, of your life and mine. Yet, even in this, he is true to his nature. In the Incarnation, God pours out himself to the world in the person of Christ. The outpouring leads to suffering and death, but is fulfilled in the resurrection. So the heart of our worship is in the Lord’s Supper, partaking of his passion and resurrection until he returns. It is in this communion that all our joys and suffering, in all their reality in time, find their true place and meaning.
At heart, our worship is not abstract. Its roots reach deep into the realities of birth and growth. Our worship takes into account failure and death. For these realities, experienced by Christ, are the fertile ground of the Incarnation, the field from which the miracle of resurrection would spring. Yet, it is also the fertile ground from which true worship arises.