Worship Theology - Article 2
Article By Professor Courtney Rose
How exhausted are you?
There’s so much about merely existing as a person engaged in contemporary western culture that is exhausting. Our attention is pulled in many directions. The blue light from our screens hinders sleep. There is a celebration of busyness. There are new television series dropped each week. Even attempting to live a “slow” or “simple” life is exhausting because it means you first have to purge your closet or constantly live with deep intentionality and consideration of the environment. Where are your clothes made? Free range beef and cage free eggs!
For the average person, there is no real way to escape the stress. The internet tells us to participate in “self-care” or taking “me-time.” Even those things can lead to more consumerism or assume the privilege of extra time and resources.
Yet in the design of the universe, God offers a solution to this problem. As God spoke the cosmos into being, each day was intentionally created. Sky, land, and seas were created and then lovingly filled with creatures and resources with concern to humanity. All was harmoniously structured and then capped off with the most wonderous creation: the time of Sabbath.
Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book, The Sabbath, gives a brief theological treatise of the concept. For Heschel, Sabbath is the “climax” of the human experience because it is an entrance into holy time. Humans are inclined to the physical and the spatial. It’s what we’re comfortable with, but it’s also what has been most distorted by entrance of sin into the world. Thus, humans tend toward “thing-worship” (idols). We worship the earth, image, people, and objects.
Humans are designed to work and that work is worship (abad, the word for “work” in Hebrew is also translated as “worship”). However, there is something special about the worship that takes place in Sabbath time. In the structure of creation given to us in Genesis 1, humans exist in the spatial and civilized for six days and then enter the holiness and peaceful wildness of time on day seven.
The Sabbath connects us to the eternal. To enter into Sabbath time is to enter into eternity. To enter into eternity is to enter into worship with the Divine. In our creation, God put the image of God within us so that we would be able to maintain a unique relationship and unity with the creator. The seventh day was the conduit of entering into eternity.
Jewish tradition refers to time as being eternal and one before the creation of the world. Once space was created it became divided into the different days except for the Sabbath day which stood alone in its fullness of time. Yet God never intended for time to remain alone in creation, so God created the Community of Israel as a companion for the eternal time of Sabbath. The covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai centers the Sabbath (Commandment 4) into the law (torah), life, and heart of the Israelite people. God has sanctified this day and the Israelites are also to sanctify and remember the Sabbath in a relationship as deep as a groom betrothed to a bride.
The Jewish practice of remembering the Sabbath requires rigorous devotion and practice. The Scriptures give clear directions as to how this time is supposed to be respected. No work, no excess, no activities that lend to the “remaking or reshaping the things of space” (Heschel). Yet for Christians very little direction is given.
The way that Jesus speaks about the Sabbath corrects the relationship the Israelite Community held to holy time. Jesus claims that he is “Lord of the Sabbath” by eschewing the traditional approaches of adherence to holy time. He rearticulates how the conduit of holy time should be hallowed and honored by stating that he is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:1-11). Then, Jesus demonstrates his power through the healing of a man with a shriveled hand. Jesus is not only Lord because he is powerful, he is Lord because he fully exemplifies the spirit of the Sabbath through bringing the healing power of shalom to someone with the greatest need for the presence of eternity in the present time.
But what does it mean that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath? What is the difference between the Jewish hallowing of the Sabbath and Jesus’s redefinition?
The answer lies in the person of Jesus Christ.
When Christ came into the world, he redeemed the physical space distorted by the fall. The physical incarnation of Christ, the putting on of flesh, brought the eternal God into the created order. In doing so, the carnal could once again be holy. Due to humanity’s propensity toward worshiping the physical, God condescended to become that which was physical and visible for humans so that they might have easier access to the divine. Jesus Christ became the Lord of the Sabbath, thus personifying the Sabbath. Jesus became the channel to eternity and holy time, he became the presence of God in the world, the rest, peace, power, healing, restoration, and salvation that the earth needed.
How then are we supposed to worship together on Sunday? Should we abandon setting aside time each week in devotion to God? Probably not. Humans are hardwired from creation for following ritual, rhythm, and tradition. We still need the demarcation of time to help us function and worship.
Choosing to set aside Sundays is an important practice for participating in the universal church. Abstaining from the normal rigors of life so that we might focus our lives more intently on worship and
community is imperative. It’s necessary for humans to rest physically, emotionally, and mentally.
As worship leaders, understanding Sabbath can be powerful. Worship leaders are able to collaborate with the Spirit of God to cultivate and curate spaces that allow for Sabbath to work effectively.
Just as Israel was covenantally bound to honoring the Sabbath as a bride, so we too should be reminded that the Church is covenantally bound to Christ. Marriage is about unity and oneness. In the same way, for Sabbath to truly occur, a worship leader should be challenged to work for profound unity within the community of worshippers. Worship among a community of Christian believers is about the united declaration of faith and adoration of the Trinitarian God. Anything that leads to alienation of certain orthodox members of the congregation should be challenged. Work towards unity in the bride and the Sabbath presence of Christ, the groom, will come.
When we truly enter Sabbath time we enter into eternity. Perhaps you’ve experienced holy times where it feels like time has stopped and worship could continue for ages. These are moments when revival feels imminent. These are the precious times when the Spirit comes powerfully and Shalom is exhibited in mysterious ways. Unfortunately, they are often disrupted by rumbling tummies or over scheduled events.
Worship leaders are also tasked in shepherding the body into beautiful moments of holy time. The task of the worship leader is to facilitate and lead others into these moments of otherworldly timelessness and requires sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the guide to worshiping Christ, the Alpha and Omega of all time. Cultivate atmospheres for the movement of the Spirit, learn to tune your heart to the Spirit’s guidance, and Christ’s Sabbath presence will follow.
Finally, the worship leader has the important responsibility of maintaining the focus of worship upon Jesus Christ. Jesus is the reconciler of the physical, the redeemer of space, and the incarnation of God in the world. The challenge to a worship leader is to elevate the physicality of the redemptive power of Christ.
Jesus then is the only one capable of distributing the rest and peace that Sabbath promises. The only way we can truly honor the Sabbath is to honor Christ and to honor the physical redemption of space in the world that his incarnation brings. Salvationists have a tendency towards recognition of the spiritual power of God. We emphasize the symbolic power of God and symbolic sacramentality. Our challenge is to then allow for the visceral and physical to have a place in our worship contexts.
If you’re exhausted by existing in our world the answer isn’t necessarily to have more “me-time.” Instead, it’s to enter into Sabbath time. We need to have eternal restorative moments that come through true worship of the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ.