Thursday, 4 January 2007

Ten propositions on worship

by Kim Fabricius

1. Why worship God? Because God is to be worshipped. Worship is a holy tautology.

2. Does worship make God present? No, worship presupposes God’s presence. But God’s presence is unlike any other. “God does not exist,” said Kierkegaard, “he is eternal.” Compared to all existents, God’s presence is an absence. The Holy of Holies is empty. If worship is fundamentally eucharist, you could say that it is “thanks for nothing”. Without this apophatic point of departure, worship inevitably becomes idolatrous.

3. Is worship necessary? Not for God it isn’t. God does not need our worship – because God is worship, the perichoretic adoration of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Worship is, however, necessary for us, for it is only as homo adorans, participating in the very life of the Holy Trinity, that we become truly human. As the psychologist says in Peter Shaffer’s play Equus, “If you don’t worship, you’ll shrink.”

4. Does worship please God? The question’s assumption is right: God is the audience of worship, not the congregation (though you wouldn’t know it from many an act of worship). But whether or not the audience approves depends. Worship pleases God when we wash our hands before we raise and fold them, that is, when our praise begins in penitence – and then issues in the politics of peace. Then we are all reading from the same hymn sheet. Otherwise see Amos 5:21-24.

5. How should worship begin? But worship never begins, or, rather, it has always already begun. You could say that we are always late for worship, because we always enter worship in medias res, the praise unceasing of the communio sanctorum. Never forget that when there are only three old ladies and a dog in the pews.

6. How should worship proceed? Worship is a dialogue, or, better, a two-beat tempo of revelation and response, grace and gratitude. Worship is also an ellipse, spiralling around the foci of word and sacrament. And worship is a time machine that takes us back to the future. And the various liturgies? They are aides-memoirs, not incantations, synopses of the unfinished story we are invited to indwell and improvise; therefore they should not aim at closure but make space for contemplation and imagination.

7. How should worship end? With an ellipsis…. For when the liturgy is over, the service (λειτουργία) begins. Leaving the church is the ultimate liturgical act: Ite, missa est. On Romans 12:1-2, Ernst Käsemann observes that “the cultic vocabulary serves a decidedly anti-cultic thrust. Christian worship does not consist in what is practiced at sacred sites, at sacred times, and with sacred acts. It is the offering of bodily existence in the otherwise profane sphere.” Or as Michael Marshall puts it: “You do not become a Christian by sitting in the pew anymore than you become a car by sitting in the garage.”

8. What should we get out of worship? Wrong question. Worship is not a utility but an offering, i.e. a sacrifice, an economy of grace that interrupts and critiques the feverish cycles of production and consumption – which is why the collection is not fund-raising but cultural critique. If you want relevance, excitement, or profit, go to a rally, a concert, or the stock exchange. To put it most counter-culturally: Blessed are the bored, for they will see God.

9. What about people who don’t worship? We are responsible for them. Hence intercessions. But more: all worship is a vicarious act – in fact, Christ’s vicarious act – so that when we come to worship, we bring the whole world with us. Worship is the end of “us” and “them” – and a sneak preview of the reconciliation of all things.

10. And what about worship as evangelism, education, ethics? Of course, but as the blessings, not the motives, of worship – blessings given as worship reconditions the habits of our hearts and reshapes our disordered characters.


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