The worship molecule (09-06-22)
A Bible Reading: Mark 14. 3 - 9
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Today we return to Leading Your Church into Growth (LYCIG) steps for helping our churches to grow. Over the next few Thursdays I want to think about different aspects of worship, because worship is at the very core of what we do as a Christian community.
I have spent the last twenty plus years of my life talking to people about worship and I’ve heard comments ranging from ‘That was amazing’; ‘sort of other worldly’; I didn’t want it to stop’ to ‘It was a bit long‘; ‘I didn’t really know what was going on’; ‘I was bored’. Some of us prefer a formal service of Holy Communion where we share the bread and wine to ponder afresh the death and resurrection of Jesus whereas others of us prefer the relaxed style of Café church where we share bacon butties and chat to our friends! If we look at the life of Jesus we discover that both have their place in the worship of the church.
LYCIG talks about worship as a molecule, combining two different elements together: the social and the sacred; the humanity and divinity of Jesus; or if you want to put it more theologically the immanent - the close intimacy of being friends of God – and the transcendent – the holy otherness and awesomeness of God.
The social includes a warm welcome and generous hospitality, sitting people close, sharing the peace together, staying for coffee and cake after the service and sharing family news. These are all things that we have really missed during Covid restrictions. The sacred includes heartfelt, joyful praise but also times of silence, listening to God’s word, deep prayer and kneeling to receive.
Both these aspects of worship, the social and the sacred, are beautifully encapsulated into today’s reading. Jesus was having dinner at the house of Simon together with his disciples and numerous others. As Simon is described as a leper, the likely company would have been made up of the usual mix of marginalized social outcasts, sitting close and enjoying welcome and hospitality. By contrast, the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume is quietly getting on with her own worship. She enacts a solemn and reverent act of devotion. She gives everything she has and anoints Jesus will incredibly expensive perfume, an action which Jesus describes as a foretaste of his death and burial. The holy and awesome occurs alongside and in the midst of the ordinary.
There is no need for criticism or rebuke, both secular and sacred have their place alongside each other. Look out for these two elements of the worship molecule as we come together Sunday by Sunday.
A Prayer Lord Jesus, may we broaden our understanding of worship, so that we can come to you as both loving, caring friend and awesome, holy God.
‘Light of the world’ by Tim Hughes