I want to think with you this morning about true worship.
The thought is implied in our Gospel from Mark 7 where Our Lord makes a stinging attack on lip service. He draws on Isaiah: This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.
We live at a time when there’s lots of talk about renewing worship – indeed our Mission Action Plan three years ago had that as a first heading. When it comes to renewing worship – moving from talk to reality – it’s surely, as Jesus says, more about renewing hearts than about changing outward forms. Impatience with outward form can be godly, but it can also be ungodly. It’s a godly motive to make worship accessible to outsiders. It’s ungodly to make worship bespoke.
Bespoke is all the range. Some of you may be wearing bespoke clothing which has been custom made to your own specification as opposed to being a ready to wear item. Bespoke is no longer just about tailored clothing. It’s about all sorts of things.
Worship though can’t really be bespoke! It’s rather the opposite. The Anglo Saxon means to give worth to something beyond you. Worship is, to quote
the adoring acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us – the glory that fills
heaven and earth. It’s very ‘unbespoke’ and hardly consumerist Evelyn Underhill
Worship is about centring on God rather than self though its agenda is mixed. The word adoration means from the Greek submission and from the Latin ad-oratio, literally, mouth to mouth, the kiss of love.
Renewing worship is about building Godcentred-ness in the church and in individuals through personal prayer. Accessibility is very important. It’s not Christian to be an élite community. Yet, at the heart of Christian worship there is awe before God drawing us to submission and loving devotion. We don’t want our church to be élite and inaccessible but we do want our church to be awesome – awesome, not awful. There’s quite a fine divide here for young people I’m afraid.
I remember preaching in a church in Lewes where there were a good number of teenagers kneeling with everyone else through the Prayer Book Holy Communion. Talking to them afterwards I learned how they found this traditional worship authentic and intriguing. It intrigued, it drew them to a God beyond this world.
Sometimes we lose confidence in the power of the age old liturgy. People see this loss of confidence in anxious attempts to provide novelty in Church.
Other times, of course, we shirk the duty to make this liturgy accessible. New comers to the prayer book get hopelessly lost without page numbers! I remember a baptism family struggling manfully with this at the some time back. Let’s all be aware of this, even at ! When you see someone struggling with the bits of paper take courage, engage them with a smile, and point them to where we’ve got to!
Renewing worship is a matter of helping one another to get into it. It’s a bit like evangelism, helping people do their own business with God.
Renewing worship means working for accessibility. This has always been the case. The move from Latin at the Reformation was one attempt. Alas making worship accessible is far more than making the words intelligible. Even the truths of the faith can be made as plain as can be and worshippers, this one included, fail to act on them. This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.
The role of the sermon in worship is both to touch on what is awesome, open up some windows to the resurrection world we enter on the Lord ’s Day, and to serve access to scripture. The role of ceremonial around the proclamation of the Gospel and the consecration of the Eucharist is to herald and make accessible the Lord in our midst. If we want to renew worship at St Giles we’re not going to find anything ready built other than what the Lord has provided in word and sacrament and his call for us to participate actively in it.
Just a suggestion. Free your eyes on occasion from your papers and hymn books.
Don’t feel obliged to follow every word as if you were word checking a proof. Try closing your eyes or looking up at the east window. When the priest takes, blesses, shows and breaks the elements watch. Jesus didn’t say read this in remembrance of me – he said do this. The Eucharist isn’t something read out of a book. It’s a sacrificial action. As Christ was taken, broken and shared in his passion so is the bread – and so are you and I.
The church teaches that there is a change, a real happening, in the worship of the Eucharist. It’s a mysterious change which affects the bread and the wine and the worshipper and the world they come from.
Here is a poem that expresses what I am saying:
I lift this bread/and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said/‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’(Martindale)
Attendance at this service is about lifting ourselves and the world on our hearts with Christ to God. I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
As the bread is offered at the Eucharist see your life and the lives of all those on your heart as being placed on the altar. As the wine is mixed and offered see your sorrows and those of the world that are on your heart as being offered.
Why not look as you sing the offertory song – it’s not just your money that’s going to that altar but your whole life – if you want it so! There’s the rub for you and I!
When the priest says over that bread and wine on our behalf and on behalf of Christ himself This is my body…my blood see your life, your body and blood, taken up into his life and his love.
The love that descends anew upon the Altar, to draw us moth-like, into its celestial flame.
After the words of the Lord and at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer priests lift the consecrated bread and wine upwards as a sign of hat drawing up of that love towards God through with and in Jesus Christ
True worship is about submission, and the adoring kiss of love. It is about our love for God and God’s for us and our love for one another in the body of Christ. Accessible worship is worship that helps a congregation see such a vibrant flow of love from their joined hearts through the externals of word and sacrament to God and back.
There should be enough organisation for people to hear the word and lift up their hearts in the Eucharist but not so much as to distract and deaden things. The priest’s role is to be there, but not to get in the way. He represents Christ, of course. He is also, so to speak, a midwife, bringing things to birth by coordinating a prayerful liturgy.
Part of that birth giving is the call to repentance we have already picked up from today’s gospel. We are also warned of ritualism in the context of the eucharist by
when he says in 1 Corinthians Chapter 11v28 examine
yourselves and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. St. Paul
Self-examination has two aspects – negative and positive. As we celebrate the Eucharist we are to do so confessing our sins. We are also to do so, more positively, through offering the Lord all our positive aspirations. Are you there now – before the altar? Are your joys and sorrows, your family and friends, your ambitions and frustrations – have you put them there yet as a living sacrifice?
I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said ‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’
Coming to the Eucharist is a lot more than taking a piece of blessed bread and sipping consecrated wine. Sometimes the consumerist streak in all of us sees Holy Communion as the important thing – what we get out of the Eucharist. No, it’s what we put in as well!
True worship is about our souls and bodies being made a living sacrifice with those on our hearts, part of the universe that is ours, being drawn through our devout prayer into true worship of God, into the celestial flame of love which is his, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.