Recovering true worship
Based on an extract from an article by Krish Kandiah for Premier Christianity
Churches have been closed for some time, and, while we have begun to open them for private prayer, and may be soon able to hold restricted services, we are by no means near what we might call normal, whatever that normal may turn out to be.
We do have an opportunity to consider, when we are unable to do what we have done in the past, to reflect upon the meaning of worship.
In the Old Testament book of Amos the prophet we read of a time when God said that he would not accept the assemblies and festivals of his people:
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god
which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.
Amos chapter 9
Similarly, during the national crisis of exile in Babylon, Jeremiah instructed believers to bed down in in the place where they found themselves, for it would be a very long time before they would be allowed by God to go back to Israel:
For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to Israel. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Jeremiah chapter 29
While our exile from our place of worship is not quite the same thing as the exile into a foreign country with no hope of return for any except the very youngest, as was the case for the Jewish exiles in Babylon, we may still have some sense of longing for our place of worship. We, too, may want to sit by the shores of the Tigris or the Euphrates and weep as we remember and long for what we had.
We should remember that the only worship in Israel was the worship in the Temple. People had to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of the five major celebrations each year that brought the Israelites from the corners of Israel to bring offerings for sin and for thanksgiving in the only place that was heaven on earth.
When Jesus breathed his last, the veil in the Temple. that separated God in his glory from everyone else except the High Priest, was torn open. The significance of this is to say that the Temple was no longer the only place for true worship. When Jesus was on the cross, he became the sacrifice, the sin-offering to God. As the One who willingly went to the cross he became the Great High Priest:
Priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but Jesus holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
When he sent his Holy Spirit to us, we became the Temple:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
1 Corinthians, chapter 6
I don’t think that our exile from our churches is quite like the one God imposed on that rebellious nation of Israel. I’m content to accept that COVID-19 is not a punishment from God, but neither is it a random outbreak in which God has no part to play.
We may long to be back in our church buildings, but God has given us in Jesus the Holy of Holies of the Temple to enjoy and to share wherever we are. Perhaps a first priority as lockdown eases is to seek to build the fellowship of believers who, together, are the Church of Christ.