Whether we worship in a grand cathedral or a small country church there is something about coming together in community (though different, yet one) that is unlike other experiences we may routinely experience.
Whether we are singing in worship with no instruments accompanying us or are joined by an orchestra, worship band, keyboard, or majestic pipe organ, no virtual time of worship compares with the sense we gain when we are gathered in one place together. It is what many of us have most missed during the pandemic about not being able to come to our place of worship.
Yes, we miss seeing one another, greeting each other, sharing a hug with friends, and more, but when the service begins, and we are all called to enter into worship everything comes together and centers our focus as nothing else does.
Some of my sweetest memories across my lifetime have been times of worship. It began in the little country church where my parents had grown up and brought me from birth onward. Standing between my parents in worship, surrounded by the voices of others with the piano and pipe organ playing settled within me that there was One greater than I could totally grasp but yet somehow hovered over us as we worshipped.
By middle school I was adding the experience of singing around an open fire at church camp each evening as we closed out the day and climbed the hill to the wooden benches with trees standing round us all as sentinels and began to lift our voices together.
High school brought the opportunity to sing in an advanced a cappella choir that taught us to listen to how our voices fit together rather than trying to be the one heard. What a grand lesson that was and how applicable it is beyond that choir or experience.
“Worship is a meeting at the center so that our lives are centered in God and no lived eccentrically. We worship so that we live in response to and from this center, the living God.
Without worship we live manipulated and manipulating lives.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
These experiences growing up from toddler through adolescence taught me that worship was about we and not about me.
And in the midst of that I also learned the sense of what it felt like to be surrounded by the One I was worshipping and even though it was a community that my voice mattered to Him.
As time passed something else became clearer to me. There was a universality in worship. Whether I was in my own place of worship or that of a friend there were similar parts to the experience, music that was often familiar even if the instruments were different or the rhythm structure unalike. I discovered that even if I had preferences, I enjoyed the time of worship whether we were singing sacred hymns, lifting hands or clapping in worship, or simply bowing our heads in reverence. Each expression connected us all in community with one another. Worship reminded us we were more one than anything else.
“Life as we encounter it is chaotic. The raw material served up by the day is disordered and turbulent. Nature is clamorous and many-headed. We ourselves are many-hearted and conflicted. How can we master such a mob? Is there any hope for harmony in the midst of chaos? The act of worship gathers into its centering rituals and harmonizing rhythms every aspect of creation. Worship does not divide the spiritual from the natural, it coordinates them.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
Have you ever wondered what worship might be like in heaven when the whole body of Christ is gathered together? I have.
There have been a number of times I have been blessed to be in a large conference ballroom with others in worship from all around the globe and every part of the Christian family tree. In the mix would be every race, tribe, and tongue. If I looked about the room I saw all ages and economic stripes. I also saw nuns in habits as well as men and women in Salvation Army attire, and Mennonites with head coverings. Dress included everything from jeans to suits, saris to authentic African attire, but when the lights in the room dimmed and the noisy chatter subsided, and worship began the sound in the room was the most beautiful I have ever heard, and I thought surely this must be a small sample of what heaven would be like.
Worship is described (often in vivid detail) throughout scripture, but few places are as triumphant and gloriously described as those we see in The Revelation of John as the grand story comes to a climax. In Eugene Peterson’s book he makes observations about the scenes described in Revelation 4 and 5 that stir my imagination about that day yet to come:
“In worship every sign of life and every impulse to holiness, every bit of beauty and every spark of vitality – Hebrew patriarchs, Christian apostles, wild animals, domesticated livestock, human beings, soaring birds – are arranged around this throne center that pulses light, showing each at its best, picking up all the colors of the spectrum in order to show off the glories. For the one seated on the throne “appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald.” Light with colors of precious stones (jasper, carnelian, emerald) bathes everyone gathered in worship. Lives that have been defaced by sin into blurred charcoal outlines are now seen in their true colors. Every faded tint and wavering line are restored to original sharpness and hue. Precious stones are precious because they collect and intensify light. Light is full of color, all colors, but our dull eyes are unperceptive. A stone, selecting certain colors out of the air and intensifying them, shows us the deep glory of the color that was in the light all the time. The ancient world valued stones not for decoration, but for their capacity to reveal and deepen the colors of light.
Worship is precious stones that reveal all the colors of light in and around us and dazzle us. Light is reflected off ugly billboards, debased in neon signs, and filtered through polluted air, smudging the world into oatmeal gray. Then a precious stone shows us a real red or green or blue, we are shaken and awake to wonder again.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
Can you imagine?
Few of us likely have imaginations that come close to what that day will be like and how the scene Peterson describes will be, but as I read his words and read the scripture passage he describes there is little doubt that worship can and will be the only response to what it will be like.