If we want to know what worship truly looks like, the story of the two men talking with Jesus along the Emmaus road shows us (Luke 24:13-35). Worship is not just us talking, praying, and singing to God. Worship is meant to be a conversation between us and God – a dialogue in which we hear from God and reply to him. Worship, then, is both God’s revelation and the people of God’s response.
The term “liturgy” describes what we do in worship. Liturgy is a Greek term that means “the work of the people.” Every church has a liturgy. All gatherings of believers have some sort of prescribed ways of moving through their worship. Liturgy is not only a reference to more traditional forms of worship. Contemporary styled worship may have less liturgical elements to it, but it still has a liturgy of several praise and worship choruses (in which the people know when to stand and sit), and an extended time of preaching.
After Christ’s resurrection, it was Jesus who approached the men. In this divine movement of liturgy, God is always the initiator of salvation and worship. If it were not for God approaching us, most fully expressed in Christ’s incarnation of coming to this earth, then we have no hope. Humanity in the vice grip of sin needs someone to help. So, when we begin worship, it is God himself who starts the conversation.
As the two men continued with their conversation, Jesus engaged them in the Scriptures. He went to the Old Testament and explained to them what it had to say about the Christ. They heard from God. To understand Holy Scripture, we too, need to walk with Jesus and converse with him. Liturgy exists to encourage a relationship between us and God. It is designed to create space whereby God and God’s people can be in a meaningful dialogue with each other.
Maybe it goes without saying, this means we must listen well. We cannot listen well if we our minds are wandering, and our hearts are somewhere else. Sometimes we intentionally make our lives overwhelmingly busy so that we either cannot or do not have time to listen to God. We might create noise and keep moving because we are much too uncomfortable with silence. We may not want to hear what is in our hearts. Getting to the place of relaxing enough to listen can seem, for some, like a daunting task. This is not a plea for you to do more (i.e. “hear more, listen better!”). It is really giving you permission to do less so that you can enjoy a conversation with Jesus. A good place to begin is to practice the Sabbath, and use the day, not just the morning, to connect with God.
Jesus became known to the two Emmaus friends through table fellowship. It was at the table that the two men’s eyes were opened to who Jesus really was. This would not have happened unless they were in meaningful conversation with Jesus. Then, after Jesus left them, the two men were inspired in their going. They went out as witnesses telling others of what they had seen and heard from their conversation with Jesus.
In this liturgical rhythm, this conversation between us and God, the good news of Jesus is presented. God first acts by seeking and desiring fellowship with us; God sent his Son, the living Word, to restore the fractured relationship – Jesus is the divine Word who has accomplished the restoration between us and God. This revelation, this realization of what God has done for us in Christ begs a response from us. We praise him for wanting fellowship with us. Having glimpsed how holy God is, we realize how sinful we are, and, so we confess our sins to him. God, in his grace, forgives us our sin and assures us of our pardon. In our gratitude for that grace, we joyfully listen and live according to his Word. And, so, back-and-forth we go, with the liturgy proclaiming the gospel to us in a divine dialogue that blesses both us and God.
Now, if you think about it, all of life is liturgical. We each have routines, habits, and life patterns that shape how we get things done. For example, in the first year of marriage, my wife and I experienced a clash of liturgies. Her family had their ways of doing things, and my family had theirs. I quickly learned what a proper liturgy was for folding towels.
A worship liturgy is neither only for Sunday morning nor to be always within a church building. We can deliberately build spiritual rhythms and spiritual conversation throughout each day in our homes, at our jobs, and throughout our daily lives. For example, our daily call to worship is when we wake up, realizing that we have been called into wakefulness to enter praise for a new day. My own personal daily prayer when I get out of bed is:
“Almighty God, thank you for bringing me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. In all I do today direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ my Lord.”
As we go through our day, we can recognize sin when it happens, and be quick to confess it and accept God’s forgiveness. We can be intentional about hearing from God, by creating space and setting aside time for reading Scripture. When our heads hit the pillow at night, we receive the blessing of God in sleep, until a new day begins.
Whatever way we go about it, we have the privilege of developing spiritual rhythms and habits of approaching God, listening to God, and responding to God. And, we need to acknowledge that something can trip us up in this attempt to live a godly life. There are other secular liturgies that vie for our attention and our hearts. We just might be influenced as much or more by a different competing liturgy. For example, the shopping mall’s version of liturgy is to gather shoppers and develop practices of buying in us. If we shop because we feel that we would have a better life with new clothes, or more stuff, we might have a competing liturgy working in our lives. If we feel we need to shop because there is something we lack in our personhood, as if we are not enough, then we just might have another liturgy that wants our loyalty over God.
The point is not to avoid shopping malls (you have to anyway!); the point is to realize that there are competing loyalties to God’s kingdom, and that we are to be shaped as followers of Jesus as our primary commitment in life. Our lives are to revolve around the person and work of Jesus, and so we must intentionally cultivate liturgical practices in our daily lives and train ourselves to be godly.
Christianity is not merely a system of beliefs; it is a way of life. The kind of habits that we develop in that life will determine what kind of disciples we will be. So, we must choose well the kinds of routines that we need in order to walk well with Jesus and carry on a delightful conversation with him.
So, if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, “There’s no resurrection of the dead”? If there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. We are found to be false witnesses about God because we testified against God that he raised Christ, when he didn’t raise him if it’s the case that the dead aren’t raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. (CEB)
Christ’s resurrection is at the very heart and soul of what it means to be Christian. For followers of Jesus, the risen Christ is at the center of life. New life means freedom from sin, death, and hell. It means experiencing life without the shackles of our past indiscretions, present failures, and future anxieties. Christianity is grounded and dependent upon a very real physical rising from death. To put it another way, the new spiritual life which Christians experience in the here and now as a result of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection.
If you are asking yourself, “Does this guy believe we are going to walk out of our graves like Jesus did?” the answer is a rollicking, “Yes!” Although Christians have been granted deliverance, our salvation is not yet here in its fullness. We still need to deal with systemic evil in the world, our old habits of sin which occasionally rear their ugly heads, and an Adversary who seeks to exploit it all to undermine God’s redemptive work in us. There is a time coming when Christ will return and the dead will be raised; and, this will not be merely an ethereal going into the clouds to strum on a harp. It will be a bona fide physical resurrection with a new body. Thus, just as we have been given a new spirit within us, a new body will follow at the end of the age.
The Apostle Paul insisted that if there was no bodily resurrection, then our faith is a sham and its worthless. One of the simple observations to make about today’s New Testament reading is that our faith and life are inextricably linked to the life of Jesus. Christ has purposefully joined himself to us. That link is so strong and vital that, in other places, Paul uses the metaphor of a head and a body – Christ is the head and we the body. Just as one cannot separate head from body and expect to have life, so nobody can separate Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. We will have a new body to go with our new life because of Jesus Christ’s redemptive events. That new body will be as much real as the one you have right now – just without the residual effects of the curse which so stubbornly cling to it.
So, what does this mean for us? Glad you asked. Christian spirituality is also very much sacramental, that is, we inhabit a bodily faith which is firmly grounded in material reality. God’s grace is communicated to us both spiritually through the unseen world and sacramentally by means of the physical creation. We are to be reminded of that sacramental nature of our faith each time we approach the Lord’s Table and ingest the very real bread and imbibe from the tangible cup. Touch and taste help us to know our faith is meant for the creation of our five senses, as well as to impel us to labor in this world for real causes of alleviating poverty, disease, social injustice, and a myriad of ailments that bog this old fallen earth. In short, both body and soul are of great value to our God, and so, ought to be for us, as well.
What’s more, we have both a spiritual and a sacramental inheritance which awaits us at the end of the age when Christ returns to judge both the living and the dead. For the Christian, this is the basis of our hope – a confident expectation that God will make good on his promises.
Almighty God, through your Son, Jesus, death has been conquered and new life unlocked for us. We pray that all who hold to his bodily resurrection may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up both spiritually and sacramentally; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In this season of Eastertide, click Christ Arose and we’ll keep the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection coming.
Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it, if you hold on to the message which I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach, and this is what you have believed. (CEB)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death isn’t just a doctrine for Christians to believe; it is a powerful reality to live into.
Christianity is not a checklist of right beliefs to hold; it is a spirituality deeply concerned with the integration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection into the believer’s daily life – affecting everything she says and does.
Belief and action are to be a seamless whole. Christianity “works” when faith in the redemptive events of Jesus are woven into the daily fabric of our lives. Where there is a disparity between verbal confession and daily actions, there is need for integration.
To hold to the message of Christianity is to allow and actively practice applying and integrating Christ’s redemption into all of life.
The greatest tool in this work of integrity is grace. In Christianity, God graciously delivers people of all kinds from sin, death, and hell through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. God graciously gives us the gift of faith, to believe. And God works throughout the duration of the Christian’s earthly life to graciously and patiently sew together a solid spirituality within the believer that effects holiness of life.
The Apostle Paul stated that “you are being saved through [the good news of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection] if you hold on to the message.” That’s Paul’s way of expressing the need for this integrating work of belief throughout a person’s life.
Far too often, in many places of evangelical Christianity, salvation is looked upon as something static – a mere belief to possess. Again, I will say: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death involves belief and much more; it is a powerful reality to live into. Salvation is more expansive than a first glance can perceive. Three statements of salvation are true:
We have been saved (past historical redemptive events of Jesus).
We are being saved (present integration of Christ’s redemption into daily life).
We will be saved (future event of Christ coming again to bring salvation in its complete fullness).
In other words, faith is dynamic. It can be strengthened or weakened, has ability to grow or wither, and rarely sits idle.
Faith needs attention and exercise to develop a strong spiritual life.
Christianity is a practical boots-on-the-ground divine/human cooperative. When we put ourselves in a position to receive, then grace has no obstacles to generously give. And that’s not a one-time thing – it is to be a constant and healthy dynamic of receiving from God and giving to others. The bedrock belief for this to happen, according to Christianity, is that Jesus is alive. Because he lives, we live. He has ability to graciously and lovingly help those coming to God. That is some incredibly good news!
Lord God Almighty, the resurrection of your Son has given us new life and renewed hope. Help us to live as new people in pursuit of the Christian ideal. Grant us wisdom to know what we must do, the will to want to do it, the courage to undertake it, the perseverance to continue to do it, and the strength to complete it; through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.