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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
a P.S. from Marcus Green on Sacrifice & Worship

You really should get Marcus Green's book-- Salvation's Song.   

He posted a gracious comment to close out his guest-blog of a week or so ago.  I include the following excerpt from that comment below with hopes it will open yet another conversation.  I like where he's going with this.  

I was kind of hoping someone would see that the principle of sacrifice and the meal Jesus gave his disciples the night before as the way of celebrating that sacrifice is supposed to have practical "worship service" connotations, not just "worship living" ones. There is a reason why for most of The Church's history, Communion has been the central act of worship.

How you define worship affects how you design worship.

But in our modern, song-driven culture (& I'm a part of this) we don't get why Communion matters because we have lost sight of why sacrifice is at the heart of our gatherings.

The cross is the fundamental act of worship in the universe - I wonder if that should affect both lives and worship gatherings (whatever we call them!) more than is often the case.

Marcus-- fill in any gaps here with a comment or two.  

I'm curious to get others input on his assertion concerning the song driven culture of worship and how "we don't get why Communion matters."  

Let me close by adding an instructive word from Robert Jensen from his essay published some time ago entitled, "How the World Lost its Story."  

"For the ancient church, the walls of the place of  Eucharist, whether these were the walls of a basement or of Hagia Sophia or of an imaginary circle in the desert, enclosed a world.  And the great drama of the Eucharist was the narrative life of that world.  Nor was this a fictive world, for its drama is precisely the "real" presence of all reality's true author, elsewhere denied."  

posted by John David Walt | at 6/18/2008 09:51:00 PM



Anonymous John Palmer said...

I would contend with the "general" notion that communion doesn't matter. I think it matters quite deeply to the "song driven culture", however it may be for reasons that we don't like and they don't know how to express. . . . it finally comes to bear on those charged with teaching.

I think if you ask the person's who have remained somewhat attached to the "traditional" church's in America what communion means to them that you would get many flustered and bewildered responses. Those that could compose themselves might share memories of taking communion as a child and how they were taught in confirmation what it means but feel a little on the spot to share that with you for fear of being wrong. Some may know the right words to say but really not have much connection to those words . Still others, will share some deep sentimentality about the act and how they draw closer to Jesus as their Lord and Savior and that this act is deeply personal for them, so personal they can't express it in words. Finally there are those that just don't know but especially like it when real bread is used with real wine, like a yummy spiritual snack.

All of them know that it is important, they just don't know or maybe even more importantly care why it is important.

It doesn't have as much if anything to do with the "song driven" culture as it has to do with loss of teaching. Loss of teaching can be attributed to loss of attention by the church to its core identity. This lack of attention has to do with not a song driven culture but an affluence driven culture which is highlighted by images of fame and exuberation. I might even go as far as to suggest that the "song driven culture" is more of a throw back, a social conciousness, that is inherant in the human condition, we were created to share our stories and the song driven culture is a backlash of lack of attention to the story being told out of present community.

11:09 AM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

As to our running "e-conversation," Marcus (that we are having in JD's e-living room), it is good to continue to narrow down our meanings. I agree that the central focus of worship is, as Paul would say, "Christ, and Him crucified." I agree that this is true for both "life as worship" and a "worship event."

The only thing I would raise as an issue is that the conversation must include, with some appropriate balance (I'm not suggesting 50-50), both Christ's sacrificial action and the worshipers' response.

Revelation 4 & 5 (NT emphasis on 5) makes your point well. It is the one, "looking like a lamb who is slain" who is the focal point of worship. But the chapter isn't simply a description of him as centerpiece. It includes that; it leads with that; it is sure to make it central; but it also includes the actions of the worshipers (singing?).

I think in response to participant-centered worship planning, there is a counter movement to make Christ the center again. HOO-friggin'-RAY! But let's not swing the pendulum so far back the other way that creation's response has no place in the story (or the planning).

I'm not suggesting you are doing that, but I am noticing this theme in the responses to your posts. By the way...nice to meet you.

12:41 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

John Palmer- where have you been? re: song driven culture-- marcus will have to make his own response, but I think i understand what he is driving at. i don't think he's referring to traditional churches, but rather to what is referred to as the modern worship movement. Communion has little to no place in that realm of worship. I could certainly agree with you on the lack of teaching idea. Much of this movement seems to come out of a strong memorialist tradition that has somewhat marginalized the Lord's Supper anyway. In other words, in many cases it didn't mean that much to them in the first place. I'm always amazed to hear people talk of taking communion so rarely because it is so special.

As for Rob's post-- I am pondering the "Christ's action" and "our response" two part movement of worship. Yes, it is quite a conventional view-- and yet more and more I question it. Isn't our response to Christ's action dependent on Christ? Isn't the secret Christ in us? And if this is so, isn't our response to God really the response of Christ in us? Doesn't it all depend on God? We are graced to participate-- to be caught up in the Godhead so to speak, but the work is Christ's. He is the high priest. This is something of what it must mean to say, "to live is Christ." Isn't this what it means to "offer our bodies as a living sacrifice?"

what do you think about this line of thinking? thanks for engaging.

10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

of course i agree with the basics of what you are saying, jd; but i'd like to go back now to some of the original posts where the concern was leaving out the Spirit in worship.

worship is when the Holy Spirit (God in us) responds (like you are saying, i think anyway, in your post), but in a way that we participate through our mimic of Christ's sacrifice. that is, when we "die to self," mirroring Christ, then we are becoming like him. we don't yield to nothing (or we'd be doing yoga), we surrender to the Spirit and in so doing not only mimic Christ, but join the Spirit in worship.

again, in revelation; crowns are laid down and then the slain one is worshipped. Of course it is by grace that we can do this, but if we are somehow not involved, is it worship? when paul says, "it is no longer i who live, but Christ living in me," i don't think he's saying he is now a will-less robot. i think he is saying, "i choose this; yes, by grace and power that is not my own, but i do choose it." that is worship to me.

10:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

one more thought, jd, what does it mean to "offer our bodies as a living sacrifice" if we are not responding?

10:32 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

thanks Rob-- helpful analysis. i'm not meaning to suggest that we are doing nothing in worship--- yielding to nothing--- but "becoming nothing" now that is another story. (i.e. have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus. . . . . . . who "made himself nothing." the big question in worship-- for me-- is who is doing what.

here is where i think we are missing the point in today's typical worship service. it's our grammar. who gets all the good verbs in worship-- is it me or I or we or us (which is an improvement). but the real question is does the God get the verbs. The God is the central actor. take a look at the next set of songs you sing in church and do some analysis.

yes-- you are right-- i am concerned about the place and role of the person of the HOly Spirit in worship. it's for another post-- but just this morning i thought of the difference in these two scenes and their implications for christian worship.

scene 1-- acts 1. jesus ascending into the clouds and his disciples below, some with hands raised, some bowing, gazing into the sky as he ascends.

scene 2-- acts 2. The Spirit of God descending in tongues of flame on the apostles.

doesn't this mean an almost catastrophic paradigm change for worship? doesn't it move at this point from unitarian to trinitarian? help me think about this.

one final thought-- if I have died and my life is now hidden with Christ in God--- if I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me-- then yes-- i am a living sacrifice-- but it is not I who am living-- Christ is living in me. Christ in me-- that is the secret. old has gone-- new has come. "I" am no longer the one who is responding-- Christ in me is responding. "To live is Christ." right? i no longer have a will--- because Christ is always actively willing and praying through me this prayer--- thy will be done---- not my will-- but your will be done. you are right-- i am not a will-less robot. i have a will but it is no longer my own. my life has been abandoned to God in love. my responsiveness to God could never have gotten this done. Christ's responsiveness to Abba has accomplished it-- finished. I am no longer my own. this is worship to me-- a life of beholding and becoming-- of giving and going.

where the heck are you Marcus? ;-)

8:49 AM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

ah, jd, great conversation (albeit marcus-less conversation). i am tracking with you but will keep up the balance proposition with these three comments.

what if you don't end scene 1 at that point, but a little further. what happens - angelic figures asking these guys why they are standing around staring into the sky.

same for scene 2...it produces a response...a service/worship response.

finally, on your final thought, i think that is an ongoing thing, not a one time thing for us. everyday we choose to relinquish control to Christ in us. this act becomes more and more natural until our wills are more and more aligned. but worship is that submitting or dieing so that we join into the trinitarian relationship of love. i just think if that is not the case, then WE are not worshiping.

but you are right that we don't bring anything to the table with our response other than Christ in us. but it is still our response...otherwise we are not worshiping.

12:32 PM EDT  
Blogger Marcus G said...

Hello again!

Oh my, you know whenever I open my mouth I end up needing to apologise. But at least this time it has been in a good cause.

John - I agree with almost every word you write. We need to teach about these things better than we do; in churches where Communion is regularly practised I fear that many many people have no idea what it is about. (Of course, to misquote a former president of yours, "It's about the cross, stupid".) I had the pleasure in 1990 of attending a series of lectures in Baltimore given by a Catholic lecturer on Passover theology. She taught of the participatory nature of the Passover - the annual re-telling of the story not as past event, but as present, and with this family as needing to escape from Egypt.

I wonder if Communion is similar for the Christian? The Cross re-told not as past event but as present, with Jesus blood not re-shed but still shed for me?

(Do you see why I love the Old Covenant? It describes a world view by which we may appreciate the New Covenant more fully. We are poorer without it. Impoverished. Ragged.
It holds a peculiar glow, that shows me Jesus especially clearly. I love the glow that foretells the Light.)

But JD is too right. The modern churches that follow the worship song tradition sometimes seem to run the risk of blindly making themselves poorer than the traditional churches. Blessing, revival, ascension, glory are our watchwords, and singing till the Spirit comes is our method.

This is where I fit in. Though I come from the traditional church, this is my tradition.

But before all the flag-waving surely comes the cross. No cross - no resurrection. It has a two-beat rhythm, this Christian worship life, and without the sacrifice there can be no true triumph. "Do this in remembrance of me" says Jesus, and he wasn't playing lead at the time.

Now: Rob (nice to e-meet you too!), before you get all cross with me - of course I am using hyperbole. And two or three other rhetorical devices as well. I might point out that Jesus has more to say about the Spirit in the context of his impending sacrifice than anywhere else, but I have no interest in downplaying the role of the Spirit in worship or indeed of our role in the whole symphony of action and reaction that is the glory of worship. I'm certainly not going to get between you and JD on stuff I hardly understand!

I just want to keep sacrifice where it belongs - at the centre of the worship agenda. Or, to put it another way, I want to keep the Table on the table.

And next time you want to put an email of mine on your blog JD, you should know better!

1:21 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

thanks marcus. i think there is a preconception of the linking of the words "worhsip" and "spirit." when i speak of the role of the spirit in worship, it has nothing to do with sensation, exstasy, flag-waving and the like (though i suppose those could be expressions, it is not at all what i'm talking about).

i am speaking of the role of the spirit to witness to jesus, to lead us to the cross that is at the center of worship, and to help us understand (in a hebraic not greek sense) what has been done.

without the cross, there is no resurrection. without the spirit, there is no true "body of christ." no body...no worship. this is why jesus tells the disciples to wait...though they are privy to the cross, and to the resurrection, they are ill-prepared to respond appropriately without the spirit's presence in them.

2:40 PM EDT  
Blogger JAy. said...

OK, I think I will stick a thought in here. JD, you write about trinitarian worship. I see worship not as a triangle, but as a quadrangle. We worship God the Father who made a way for us through Jesus the Son who gave us the Spirit as guidance and strength. But the "us" cannot be taken out.

God gave US his Son so that man and God could be reconciled. Yes, we commit our lives to Christ, but our worship is that act of commission. It doesn't have a basis without Jesus; it doesn't have fulfillment without the Spirit; but it is an action none the less.

Regarding the verbs in our worship songs, a couple phrases came to mind right away. "We bow down; We lay our crowns..." and "Shout to the Lord." Yes, we have the action, but it is the direction of the action, the giving of ourselves, that makes it worship.

As far as connecting worship with communion, I agree that the two should be linked. I grew up Catholic, and I admittedly miss the act of communion in every service. But the act of communion commemorates Jesus' sacrifice and welcomes the Spirit. It is both a rememberance of sacrifice (Jesus') and an act of sacrifice (ours). It still takes our action to develop its full meaning.

Remember, there are people who have devoted their lives to studying Jesus and the Scriptures without ever committing themselves to Christ. Without the act of submission and sacrifice, all the knowledge is fruitless in the greater picture. It is the sacrifice of self as worship that gives the strength of the Spirit and the hope of salvation.

3:43 PM EDT  

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