Ready for Worship

The most characteristic activity of a typical parish church is worship. A whole cadre of people swing into action: the altar guild, the flower guild, the chalice bearers, the ushers, the lay readers, the ushers, the coffee hour hosts, and more, down to those who count the offering and those who lock up the place when the service is done. All are devoted to making the sanctuary beautiful and comfortable, and seeing that everyone present is welcome. Their devotion is an end in itself, never to be discounted, but they would be the first to say something greater goes on; something greater than the sum of all their parts.

What is that something else? It is the worship of God, named in the first sentence above. —or is it? Is there not a still greater Something not yet mentioned? Thanks be to God, there is. It is His own self-offering. That is literally the substance of the Eucharist: the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for you and for all of us. This is clearest in churches that celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, at every worship service, but the truth is there in those where prayers and preaching are the “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” as the Book of Common Prayer defines Sacrament.

God’s own self-offering. Take a moment to reflect on that. It is God’s own. It is himself He offers. He offers His own self in the most vivid sense: the very body and blood of his Son who hung sweating and bleeding in the hot Palestinian sun—no abstraction that, and no distinction between the Father and the Son, for they are both God; both persons of the undivided Trinity.

This is not the place for a treatise on trinitarian theology or Chalcedonian Christology; anyone who wants can read up on those topics at leisure, but for now simply contemplate the reality: God constantly gives his very body and blood to worshipers—indeed, to the whole world, including the people who don’t happen to be on their knees at the moment. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Not just the pretty people, or the ones with the shiniest utensils, or the ones of some favored denomination: the world. How does that work for people of other lands and traditions? None of my business. I can only suppose that if he reached me he can reach anyone.

One day I went looking for the Anglican church in the neighborhood of Taksim, Istanbul. When I came to it, I saw a man sweeping the floor. He was the only one around, so I asked him whether he was a clergyman there. It turned out he was a refugee from Darfur during the horrific time when people paid all their money to be shot rather than hacked to death with machetes. His reply to my question: “I am nothing.” Spoken like a Christian.

By all means see that things are polished up, and review your lines if you are assigned to speak aloud, but remember it is not we who do it. God and God alone has the power and the initiative. We are his, not vice versa. If we are not his, we are nothing.

One thought on “Ready for Worship”

  1. I always read the Owl with interest. I often read it striving to understand. Your words today touched me. Thank you for doing what you are doing.

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