In last week’s article we focused in on the last word of Romans 12:1: letourgia. It means “liturgy,” or “the work of the people.” We took an excursion to a Saturday afternoon NCAA Division 1 College Football game to see what I believe real liturgy aspires to do: to facilitate a dynamic, dramatic, scripted yet spontaneous, corporate yet personal embodied response to the God (or in this sense, the gods on the field).
Today I want to spend some time talking about the playing field. There’s a small phrase in Romans 12:1 which packs a massive punch. I overlooked it for the longest time. It’s the phrase modifying “offer your bodies.” It’s the little phrase:
“In view of God’s mercy.”
In Romans, Paul takes the first eleven chapters to paint a panoramic vision of the view of God’s mercy. It’s like he’s summarizing those first eleven chapters of the most studied letter since the reformation and in five words: In view of God’s mercy.
Too often, we are content in worship to let the vision of God’s mercy be reduced to a theological concept or worse a transactional proposition: The mercy of God is the substitutionary, penal, propitiating, atoning work of the second person of the Trinity through his death on the cross, resurrection from the grave and ascension into heaven for the sins of the world and the righteousness of the saints, whom he saves by grace through a confession of faith which most often happens through what is known as the “sinners prayer.”
While this is perhaps one way to characterize the view of God’s mercy, it seems to defy what Paul is getting at when he says “in view of God’s mercy.” The mercy of God is not primarily a concept to be grasped but a vision to become subsumed in. As we said from the start, “Worship starts with seeing.” Worship is a visionary activity. The mercy of God must be seen.
It’s important to note that Paul began casting the vision of mercy in Romans 1 not with the sin of humanity but with the goodness of the created order. Only then does he graphically depict the fall from grace. Next he turns to wrath and the law and Abraham and Israel and Jesus and Adam. In Romans, Paul masterfully depicts for us what it looks like to be a theological storyteller. And this is precisely what we must learn to do as the people of God gathered for corporate worship.
What Worship Leaders Can Learn from Disney
How do we shape “in view of God’s mercy” in our worship gatherings? This past Christmas our family made the pilgrimage to Disney World. It’s fascinating how Disney didn’t set out to build a theme park but to create a world. When you enter the world of Disney you leave your world behind. It is an immersive experience. But what happens there is more than just a few thrill rides and funnel cakes. Disney has created a world which offers an immersive context for memory making. From the majestic entry gates to the evening fireworks, through the “Small World” cruise to the top of Space Mountain, all the while surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses led by the Patron Saint, Mickey Mouse, one day at Disney can create a lifetime of memories.
What does this have to do with worship? Our worship gatherings present us with a weekly opportunity to bask in the glorious view of God’s mercy. What would it take to develop our places of worship into arenas of revelation? How might our worship leaders learn to become theological storytellers through song choices, scriptural declarations, corporate gesture and so forth? It’s another post, but this is what the great cathedrals aspire to do with every square inch of their existence.
Worship is the Weekly Opportunity to Reorient ourselves inside the True Storyline of our Lives
So often our worship services seem content with offering an ephemeral experience rather than cultivating contexts for deep dives into the Spirit-filled world of biblical memory. There are a number of ancient, time tested strategies and practices for doing this. Next week I will address the ways the Christian Calendar casts the vision of God’s mercy through building an arena of Divine revelation.
For now, I’ll close with another word from Robert Jensen, from his essay entitled, “How the World Lost its Story.”
“The church’s assemblies must again become occasions of seeing. We are told by the Scripture that in the Kingdom this world’s dimness of sight will be replaced by, as the old theology said it, ‘beatific vision.’. . . . . And in this age, the church must be the place where beatific vision is anticipated and trained.”
To read more of the series, start here.