“How do we live in creation? Do we relate to it as a place full of “things” we can use for whatever need we want to fulfill and whatever goal we wish to accomplish? Or do we see creation first of all as a sacramental reality, a sacred space where God reveals to us the immense beauty of the Divine?
As long as we only use creation, we cannot recognise its sacredness because we are approaching it as if we are its owners. But when we relate to all that surrounds us as created by the same God who created us and as the place where God appears to us and calls us to worship and adoration, then we are able to recognise the sacred quality of all God’s handiwork." [Henri Nouwen]
While reading Martin Jaffee's Early Judaism for Community of God this week, I came across these thoughts on the conceptual symbolism of the temple, perhaps some of the best I've come across:
The temple linked Jews to the world of heaven as well as serving as a visible link to the Jewish national past. Many regarded the temple as the earthly manifestation of an ethereal palace that existed in God's domain...
In addition to its capacity to evoke speculation about its heavenly counterpart, the temple was also viewed as a visual representation of the cosmos itself...
For the most, to see the temple on earth was to come as close as they would to heaven. Precisely because it was perceived to be an earthly version of a heavenly prototype, the temple was a powerful symbol of the unity of all elements of God's cosmic design. Within its boundaries, the heavenly, earthly, and social realms were all joined together into a seamless whole. Israelite priestly tradition tended to imagine the earth's surface as divided between the clean land of Israel and the unclean lands of the nations, the holiness of the land and the commonness of all other space. The ground plan of the Herodian temple mirrored this conception of things. [pp. 175-6]
Speaking of the Holy of Holies, Jaffee notes:
But these objects [the Ark of the Covenant and the cherubim] had been lost by 587 BCE. What remained, according to later rabbinic tradition, was a flat stone called the Foundation Stone. Upon it, some rabbinic sages insisted, the world had been created. Their insistence upon this point highlights the cosmic function of the Holy of Holies itself. The room served as the meeting of heaven and earth, where all the forces of creation were present in their most intense form. At the center of the temple's rings of holiness, therefore, was nothing at all, an emptiness filled with the potential of infinite presence. God's Glory of Presence (Hebrew: shekhinah), that part of his being capable of worldly embodiment, could descend through it from the heavenly throne at any instant. [p. 179]
On the priestly sacrifices:
When the spectacle of the victim's death and physical destruction was complete, the entire community in the temple court acknowledged the priest's success in bringing the power of life anew into the world. The worshippers sent their own adorations of God skyward with the aromatic smoke of the sacrificial victims whose death they had witnessed.
Although the priest did the work, the participatory witness of a communal audience was a crucial part of the temple's ritual life. The presence of witnesses, indeed, transformed the service from a private priestly rite into a public event that served as a tutorial in priestly conceptions of the world. These were made immediately tangible to the non-priestly majority through the powerful media of massive architectural presence and ritual pageantry. Indeed, the experience of the temple, rather than literary formulations of law and theology, were the primary means by which common Israelites would have identified with the biblical description of Israel as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exod. 19:6). [p. 182]
On the Pilgrimage Festivals:
Thus, the calendar of Pilgrimage Festivals enabled the temple to transform the entire Jewish Diaspora into a series of spokes emanating from the center of the temple and its circumference. The rhythms of the sacrificial seasons transformed the temple into a kind of heart. Its beat circulated a stream of Jews throughout the body of Israel in a perpetuation systolic-diastolic rhythm, geared to the cycles of the seasons. [p. 187]
And one more for good measure:
While the priests were sustaining creation through their sacrifices, villagers were intoning the story of the world's creation. In a real sense, then, through the bystanders, the ritual life of the priests extended beyond the temple into the lives of the Judean population. Non-priestly Jews could incorporate the temple, as the center of the world, into their own experience around the temple's actual borders. [p. 188]
Given Jaffee's descriptions, the impact of the destruction of the temple in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman Empire cannot be overstated. At its core it was a devastating blow to the nation of Israel. Not only did cut off what they saw as their lifeline to God, it had a literal and tangible impact on the cosmos.
This morning we sang these words as a community. It was a great reminder of the hope we have for this season:
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.
There's a saying that states that you can learn much about a community by the kinds of worship songs they embrace as a worshiping community. Last Sunday our worship leader at PCOM, Johnny, made the observation of how difficult it has been lately to find good worship music. The next day comes this...
Apparently, the Mars Hill community in Seattle has been singing this song, Destructor, lately:
From the first time You flooded the earth To the last time You burned off the curse To the way that You hated Your Son When You hung all the sins of the world
Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy.
Heaven will disappear with a roar The host of God will come to destroy Sin is a declaration of war God will have his glory one way or another
So, I'm not really sure what to think about all this. It seems to me that at best this is a bit unbalanced in its approach and at worst misrepresents the character and nature of God. Now I believe that what we do here matters, that it has ramifications that impact all eternity. I also believe in a reckoning for how we chosen to live our lives. I understand the goodness and holiness of God. I guess the question I have is this - what or who exactly are we "worshiping" when we sing a song like this? Can this not be construed as "worshiping" the destruction of the world and "sinners" by a God who "hated" his son?
Just got home from our church's Sunday morning gathering [and our subsequent lunch at CPK] still doing some thinking...
This morning we sang a series of songs which all had the same kind of unifying theme - the bigness of God. Now I have nothing against this kind of theme, which is quite popular in worship music today, but it did leave me wondering a few things. As we sang God of Wonders, I kept thinking about the first line, "God of wonders beyond our galaxy." What is the point being made here? Is it that God's wonders extend beyond our galaxy, or is it that God is a God of wonders that somehow resides infinitely beyond our galaxy? While I would like to think the first option, I'm suspicious that it might be the second option.
Why is much of our worship focused on the image of God being above and beyond this creation? I'm wondering if this has something to do with our vision of the nature of this world. If our dominant vision of this world as something inherently and utterly sinful, lacking anything good, does this in fact necessitate that we posit God as wholly other, outside, and beyond this creation? It is almost as if we are afraid of attaching an immanent presence to God for fear of somehow tainting God in the process.
This brings me back to something I've thought for a while. While the early Church apparently wrestled with the divinity of Jesus, the current Church has subsequently wrestled with the humanity of Jesus, even approaching something close to docetism - the thought of Jesus as not being fully human, but as something wholly other. It just seems that we are somehow more comfortable with seeing God as "other" than wrestling with the holy in our midst.
So here's the question I wrestled with this morning. What might it look like to worship God as immanently present, the holy in our midst? What if our worship was not contained merely as worshiping God as originator and controller of the world, but equally embraced God as incarnationally present in this world?
I think the answer to that question might change the way we worship, how we see this world and the kingdom, as well as how we might live in this world.
From a paper Tom Wright presented over the weekend at the Yale Conference on Worship and the Spirit:
All this is to insist once more
that we understand early Christian worship as eschatological. Not that they
thought the space-time world was coming to an end; as I and others have argued,
that is largely a modern construct, a way of parking a problem within Enlightenment belittlings of early Christianity, a move moreover which normally
ignores the resurrection. All that is another story. Rather, the early
Christians believed that they were already living in the time of fulfilment and
transformation, in which the great Exodus-shaped story which began with
creation itself, and which took a fresh turn with Abraham, had reached its
appointed goal, and was now bearing fruit in a quite new way. Early Christian
worship was thus characterized by the sense of newness, of new covenant and new
creation, and so by the sense of anticipating in worship something that would
come completely true when that new creation was finished. To recognise this
inaugurated eschatology within the earliest texts may be to alert ourselves
once again to this dimension in the later developing liturgies. If the Spirit
is the one who brings God’s future forward into the present, worshipping in the
Spirit the God who raised Jesus from the dead means standing both at the
overlap between heaven and earth and also at the place where past, present and
future are mysteriously held together. That, I believe, is the best framework
for understanding Christian sacramental theology; but that, too, is a topic for