In a time of grave international turmoil and disturbing news, we see more readily than at other times our need for the gifts of God’s presence in the midst of God’s people.
The January 2014 issue of Liturgy was on Good Worship. The article by Heidi Miller reflects on the respite God offers in worship –– through word and sacrament, prayer and song, offering and being given away as bread for the world.
Out of the chaos, amidst a community of exiles, comes an Advent announcement, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you perceive it?” (Is 43:19). God continues to create in the wilderness, giving drink to people so that they might declare God's praise (Is 43:21) and enter into good worship, the kind God intended.
“The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” John, the Gospel writer, now calls us to step back and gaze as he reaches into the creation story and introduces God's continuing creativeness that will change the course of history. The Spirit of God rests on Jesus. This creating, incarnational initiative of God comes and makes home . . . with and in us.
. . . Writing during the Reformation, when the temptation toward holding up spirit over matter came to be prized, [the Anabaptist Pilgram] Marpeck offers a theological anthropology, rooted in Christ, that takes the created and creative body seriously:
Without the revelation of the Son no creature in heaven or on earth can recognize the Father's work (Matt. 11; Jn. 5). … For that reason the Son assumed human nature, to do human, bodily works—speaking words and doing deeds. Thus, physical eyes could see him, physical ears hear him, the physical body grasp and perceive him.
[Pilgram Marpeck, “Response to Caspar Schwenckfeld,” in Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck and His Circle, trans. Walter Klaassen, Werner Packull, and John Rempel (Kitchner: Pandora Press, 1999), 82.]
The primary address of God is in, with, and through us, because of Jesus. Good worship calls us, again and again, to see, hear, and perceive the new thing that is re-creating and incarnating among us as the body of Christ. . . .
John shows us that Jesus’ interactions with people in this physical world are messy. They are ask-for-water-from-an-outcast, take-up-your-mat-and-walk, write-in-the-dirt, rub-mud-in-your-eyes, wash-one-another's-feet interactions. They show us that narratives enter the body and have implications for entire communities. We do well to follow Jesus as he walks in the dirt of our world, teaching us to write in the dirt, rub mud on our eyes, to ask for water from the outcast, and wash one another's tired feet.
Good worship that walks into the mess of this world attends to the imprinting of the body on a primal level. Rather than absenting the body in favor of a cognitive concept, good worship notices that worship happens in our bodies. We are imprinted as a physical people through physical means. While this may sound obvious, too often we are sitting in pews, passively listening or sleeping, trying to enter a cognitive digestion of the faith.
“If I am a wise preacher, I will . . . employ language that helps the listeners to feel the bodily weight of the truth, to experience bowing and standing, leaning on God and being the self-responsible people they are called to be.” [Thomas Troeger, Imagining a Sermon (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990), 55-56.]
-- Heidi Miller is assistant professor of Christian worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.
As we pray in these tenuous times for refugees and soldiers, diplomats and peacekeepers, those who are sacrificed and those who rescue, may our worship renew us as communities of mercy toward each other, ourselves, and all who daily make hard decisions.
Heidi Miller, “And God Saw that It Was Very Good: Toward a Theology of Good Worship,” Liturgy 29, no. 2 (31 Jan 2014): 31-36.