W is for Worship
Since the dawn of human history people have performed acts of worship. The feeling that there is something beyond the physical world, a sense of the Transcendent, has led people to pray, to tell religious myth (or stories), and to perform rituals.
Worship is our response to God. The beauty, majesty and power of nature can call us to worship the Creator. In a piece of beautiful music we may be caught up in a sense of “otherness”. We can want to give thanks to God for important moments in our life, like a loved-one’s recovery from sickness, or for the safe delivery of a new baby. We can approach God in penitence and sorrow for the sins we commit. Whether it be praise, thanksgiving, penitence, or commitment it is done in response to who and what God S and to the action of God in our lives, the things God has done for us individually and for all humanity. It is the duty and service we owe God.
In the Christian Faith, our worship together is a response to God, the Holy Trinity. That is why we start our services with the words, “In the name of the Father, and of the San, and of the Holy Spirit.” Our worship should, first and foremost, be Godwards. We should be focused towards God the Father who is the source and origin of all things and creator of the universe; towards God the Son, the Word of God, who became one of us, shared in our human nature, and won our salvation; towards God the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
While worship should always be focused on God, we might say ‘upwards’, there is also an aspect which looks towards people, we might call it ‘sideways’. Worship is not - simply the expression of our thoughts and feelings towards God, it also transforms us as individuals and as a community. We listen to the words of the Bible and the preacher’s expounding of them. We feed on Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We are formed by the words we say and sing and the actions we perform. For example, a song of praise may not accurately reflect our emotions at the time we sing it. We might actually be feeling quite down or fed up. But singing the hymn anyway can start to move us towards the desire to praise. Worship reflects where we are, and where we want to be in our relationship to God.
Our worship at the Ascension lies within the catholic tradition of Anglicanism. In keeping with that tradition, the act of worship we perform the most is the Mass or Eucharist. We celebrate the Eucharist often because, quite simply, that is what Jesus commanded us to do. Catholic worship tries to use all the aspects of a human person: mind/spirit and body. The mind is engaged in listening to the readings from the Bible and the sermon, also in the words of our hymns and liturgy. The body is used in standing for certain things and sitting for others, in making the sign of the cross, and in genuflecting. We also use of all the body’s senses in worship. We see the colours of flowers, vestments, paintings, and the rising incense. We hear the words of scriptures, music, and the ringing of bells. We smell the incense and flowers. We touch hands in the peace and when we receive communion. And we taste the Blessed Sacrament when we receive communion. Every aspect of our humanity should be present in worship to God.
But worship is not just what happens in Church. Our whole lives should be an offering of worship to God. One of the prayers we sometimes say at the end of the Mass on Sundays says, “Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory”. Whenever we are caring to others, when we use the talents God has given us to good purposes, when we are on the side of the weak and helpless, when we share those things God has given us with those in need, we are performing acts of worship.
Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set before you the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore, Amen. [Jude 1.24-25]
Worship of the Lamb, part of the Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan Van Eyck c. 1390 – 1441