Friday, October 05, 2007
What Is Worship?
Well, I’ve survived the first week of term. Just about…!
This first half-term, all the first years have to visit at least seven different churches, from various traditions and including Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and a black majority Wesleyan. Part of the idea is to expose ourselves to different traditions, and reflect on them; and part of the idea, I suspect, is to be made uncomfortable by certain things, and to reflect on why we felt uncomfortable. Then, each week, we’ll attend a seminar, posing different questions. This week, the question was: what is worship?
Last Sunday night I went along to Trent Vineyard. As I have known many people who worship in Vineyard churches, and have worshipped in an Anglican church that has a close relationship with the Vineyard, I thought I would feel more or less at home. But as it turned out, I found it a very uncomfortable experience.
There were several things I felt uncomfortable with, which I won’t go into here. But one thing I felt uncomfortable with was the absence of a cross, or crucifix, and an altar as a focal point – or, indeed, anywhere at all in the purpose-built auditorium. (The focal point was the worship band, spread out across a stage at the front.)
Now, the absence of a fixed cross and altar would not have bothered me if we had been gathered in a café (though in such a space I would expect a portable cross and a surface appropriated as a make-shift altar), but in a space purpose-built for Christian worship, it just didn’t feel right. Why not? That comes down to how I would answer that question, what is worship?
What is worship? By which I mean to ask, what lies at the heart of formal, corporate worship? (And yes, I believe that worship goes wider than formal, corporate worship; but that is the question, in this context.) Here’s my answer:
The heart of formal, corporate worship is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not only the point where we remember Jesus’ body broken 2,000 years ago; but the point where the Holy Spirit re-members Jesus’ broken body today. We are the Body of Christ, dispersed both by our geographical circumstances and by those things that come between us and each other and God, which we call sin. The movement of formal, corporate worship, the sequence of its elements, brings us to the point where the broken body is re-membered, in order to be sent out into the world again. It is a journey to the Eucharist; and then out from the Eucharist; with the Eurcharist being the focus, the heart, the pivotal moment. The symbols of Christ’s body and blood, on the altar, at the foot of the cross.
And because this is my answer to the question, what is worship? to be in a place of formal, corporate worship devoid of cross and altar felt profoundly disturbing.
What about you? How would you answer the question?
Would you need a cross and altar?
Or, are you equally comfortable with their presence or absence?
Or, do you find such physical symbols a distraction away from the spiritual truths they were designed to point to?
worship , the eucharist , remembering the body of Christ