This Tuesday we are discussing Chapter 4: Worship!” of the Rev. Scott Gunn’s book: The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus.
The very nature of being a Christian is to worship. The word worship comes from the Old English worth-ship. It is a compound of the suffix “-ship” meaning “a position or relation between (friend/friendship)” and the root word “worth” meaning “significant, valuable, honorable, or of high rank.” The word was originally an honorific for mayors and magistrates in England (and is still in use today in parts of England, Canada, and Australia). By the 1300s, “worship” began being applied to God as the ultimate magistrate. Therefore, worship is about engaging with God as something higher and of a greater stature than we are.
The What and Why of Worship:
What is worship? As Rev. Gunn points out, on one level, we worship because the Church tells us to. Article 1, Title II of the Canons of the Episcopal Church instructs us that “All persons within this Church shall celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, by regular participation in the public worship of the Church, by hearing the Word of God read and taught, and by other acts of devotion and works of charity, using all godly and sober conversation.” Worship is a public gathering where we participate, and where the Word of God is read and taught. Within our protestant tradition, worship is where we all gather to consume the Scriptures.
On a more basic level, however, worship is simply carrying out the greatest commandment. When the lawyer asked Jesus, what is the greatest of the 613 Commandments in the Law, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Matt. 22:35-40. In worship, we move God into the center of our world, and us out of it, thereby fulfilling the greatest of the commandments. Or as our Book of Common Prayer puts it, in our worship we offer “our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice.” 1979 BCP 336.
Our word liturgy means “pubic work.” In ancient Greece, a liturgy was a “form of personal service to the state which citizens possessing property to a certain amount were bound, when called upon, to perform at their own cost.” Our liturgy is not about a “work of the people” but a work for the people. In this sense, the liturgy is not our work for the benefit of God, but God’s work for the benefit of us. We are merely participants in a greater work that God is carrying out.
For the Life of the World:
The most significant contemporary book on liturgy and worship is Alexander Schmemann’s (1921-1983) For the Life of the World. The great theme of his book is that our Sunday liturgy is not a discrete activity that takes place on Sunday morning for the benefit of those present, but is a way of life that benefits and transforms the whole world. On Sunday morning, individuals enter a church building to gather. Within the liturgy, these individuals are transformed through the sacramental presence of God in Trinity as contained within the materiality (actual bread, wine, etc.) of the liturgy into the Church itself. For Schmemann, this liturgical transformation is who we become in the world – not to simply make the world a better place or to spiritualize our existence – but to make the world a sacrament, a sacrifice, and sacred. Our every encounter with and within the world should be about seeing God, making him known, and rejoicing in his presence. Our worship and liturgy, therefore, is not just for us, but for the life of the whole world. (If you never encountered the book, please buy it or read it online. A good summary of his book is here.)
Dinner is at 6. The menu is fajitas and margaritas (Cinco de Mayo observed). Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!
We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life in God, communion with God. We know that real life is “eucharist,” a movement of love and adoration toward God, the movement in which alone the meaning and the value of all that exists can be revealed and fulfilled.“For the Life of the World,” p.34