Since the beginning of the reformation movement, religious movements have moved away from older traditional styles of worship to more a “contemporary” and vernacular form of worship. And while the translation into a vernacular language of texts such as the Bible as well as the preaching of the Gospel made the good news of Christ’s life and death accessible to the everyday person, the secularization of the worship space as well as the chipping away of the liturgical structure of the service have also stripped away the sense of the sacred mysteries being made manifest while communing with God. Contemporary worship, through the stripping of older traditional liturgies, has sought to bring God into the daily life of the people (and so bring young adults into the fold of the church) but has done so in such as way that worship and God have become mundane and common place. And yet, while such secularization has resulted in mega churches full of people singing and waving their hand about, monies flowing into church coffers, and the Gospels being shouted over the airwaves around the globe, scratch below the gilded surface and there is an emptiness, a spiritual darkness where the light of God’s truth doesn’t shine, the harvest is poor and the praises sung are as empty as a sounding gong. It is any wonder that the next generation feels lost and wanders about without drive or purpose?
The error has been in the ignorance and arrogance of these reformers in trying to mold God into the secular lifestyle when the call is to remove the veil of the secular and illuminate the sacred space of God’s kingdom around and within us; Jesus Himself revealed this to his disciples when He instructed them “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (MT 10:7) and revealed to the Pharisees “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (LK17: 20-21). Jesus knew, though imperceptible to our senses, God’s sacred kingdom was not some other place, but was in each of us, and surrounds us and flows through each and everything, but it is invisible to our senses. God has given us eyes to see and ears to hear, a nose to smell, a tongue to taste and our nerves to feel so that we might live in and relate to this secular, concrete world; He has also given us the gift of a heart and mind so that we may know Him and see the sacred manifest in ritual, hear His voice in words of prayer and song, feel His embrace in the gathering to worship and taste His grace in the body and blood of the Son of Man. God came into the world, this secular space so that He could appeal to our senses and to teach us to open our hearts and minds to see the truth in the mystery of faith, the revelation in His coming to us, the sacrifice made for us in His death and His return to us in each act of love and kindness.
How then are we to find God and how are we to worship Him? Are we not to save the souls of those around us by bringing them to church and preaching the Gospels with song and dance, with gathering large crowds of believers, with conversion of unbelievers, prayer lines and with miracles of healing just as the apostles have done? No. It is only through God’s grace we are saved, our obligation is to love each other as God loves us; any ritual, symbol, act or form of worship which does not result in such love is empty of meaning. Paul says it best in his 1st letter to the Corinthians (13:1): “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” God has revealed what he expects of his people throughout the Old Testament; through the words of the prophets His people were instructed how to live and worship: “This is what the LORD says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns” (JER 4:3) for seed sown on fallow ground fails to produce any fruit. Jesus came and showed us how to love; His life was the example and just as He taught us to pray, His words were the instructions to worship:
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’” (LK 22: 19-20).
Through ritual our hearts and eyes are opened to the sacred light and truth of God and through the liturgy of the Eucharist He is made manifest in the bread and wine, appealing to all our physical senses and nourishing our souls with the love of His unending sacrifice. Christ tells us how to bring forth this sacred love he shares with our spirit into our daily lives by taking our spiritual inheritance and feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, opening our hearts to strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting those who are alone and in need. For He tells us, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me.” And “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (MT 25:40, 45).
We, as the faithful followers of the Son of Man must follow the example set forth for us. His life and His teachings are the torch with which we cut through the darkness and open our eyes to God’s kingdom here on earth. Through the liturgy of the word, we can hear, learn and embrace God’s plan for us and by the celebration of the Eucharist, we experience the covenant of God’s love, our spirit is renewed, we are strengthened to walk Christ’s path, inspired to share God’s unending love and empowered to be living examples of the Gospel! Therefore, let us celebrate together and go forth bearing the light of Christ and feed, clothe, support, comfort, visit and LOVE those around us, for this is how we worship our Lord and bring our secular lives into God’s sacred kingdom.
Rev. Fr. Jason Van Lieshout is a Priest in the United States Old Catholic Church. He has worked as an educator and have multiple degrees. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina.