I grew up in a pretty conservative household. It wasn’t radically
fundamentalist or… anything, but we did live by the standard behavioral codes
most mainstream evangelicals held to at the time—no drinking, playing cards, or
dancing. Movies were on the borderline. As a youth, I could follow the
rationale behind the prohibition of drinking, but as for the problem with cards
and dancing, well, I was at a loss. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a huge deal because
it didn’t really affect me personally, that is, until a boy invited me to the
prom. Suddenly the idea that Christians shouldn’t dance became very irrational.
My budding gifts at logic were tested and found wanting, at least from my
parents’ perspective. So after numerous attempts to challenge the “no dance
rule,” the answer remained the same: tell Randy, “Thank you for the invitation,
but we don’t dance.”
Thanks for the invitation, but we don’t dance. I wonder whether these same
words aren’t often spoken by worshipers to Jesus Christ when he invites us to
the dance—the dance of worship. As Reggie Kidd explains (see the feature in
this issue), there’s a dance in progress; it is the ongoing Trinitarian
movement of mutual worship between Father, Son, and Spirit as the Persons of
the Godhead celebrate their eternal relationship with holy abandon. The
wonderful thing is that we
are invited to the dance. Jesus Christ, our risen
Lord, our high priest, and our true Worship Leader, invites us to join him in
the dance of worship. As high priest (see Heb 7-8), he teaches us the steps; he converts our many voices into one voice;
he orchestrates the whole experience so that, together, the body of Christ with
Jesus as its leader, participates fully in relational worship to the glory of
the Triune God.
Yet so often we do not accept the invitation to the worship dance,
largely because we are so absorbed in our own, alternative, views of worship.
We think worship is about a program we put on for God. Or we think worship is
about our own satisfaction and blessing. But these views of worship are a far
cry from biblical worship, which instead calls us to actively participate in
Christ-centered worship. So how can we accept the invitation to the dance and
participate fully with the One who invites us? Let me offer three words to help
us increase our participation in Christ-centered worship: anticipation,
incarnation, and resurrection.
The real presence of Jesus Christ at worship.
Hours before your arrival at the appointed time for corporate worship,
contemplate actually encountering the risen Lord in community. He is truly
present to both enable our worship and to receive our worship. How can
anticipation of this reality lead to greater participation?
Here’s just one idea: involve artists trained in liturgical movement or
children or choirs to enter the worship space in procession as the service
begins. A simple thing, such as a processional, can build anticipation of
meeting with Christ. The processional is rooted in the Old Testament practice
of pilgrimage. Worshipers made pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times each year
for high festivals of worship. As they approached the Temple, there was
widespread singing, dancing, marching, playing of musical instruments, and
more. The closer they got to the Temple, the anticipation of meeting God
certainly must have heightened. Anticipate a real meeting with Christ and you
will participate in worship at a new level.
Incarnational worship. Incarnation simply refers to that which does not have material substance
taking on material substance. The unseen presence of Jesus in worship is
manifested through the Spirit in the body of Christ that is gathered to
worship. Worship is incarnational when the body becomes the means through which
Christ is seen. How would our understanding of incarnational worship lead to
greater participation in Christ-centered worship?
Here’s just one idea: begin to select
your songs and prepare your words for prayers with the purpose of Christ
singing through the community, Christ praying through the community to God. (He is our high priest, remember?) This is incarnational worship: when the
unseen Christ is manifested through the worshiping community. Our participation
will become more Christ-centered when we view our songs, prayers, and other
words as the texts, which the unseen Worship Leader perfects and uses to
The resurrection. The resurrection is the
primary event of worship. We worship because Jesus lives. When the early church
celebrated the Table of the Lord, they did so joyfully. This is because the
last image on their mind was not the cross but the empty tomb. Our resurrected
Lord is the central theme of worship. How would our recalling of the
resurrection lead to greater participation in Christ-centered worship?
Here’s just one idea: start with the Table of the Lord. Begin to make a
gentle shift toward celebration when inviting people to come to the Table.
Remember that the bread and the cup represent not only Christ’s death but his
triumph and his promise to come again. Gradually insert songs of celebration at
the Table, preside at the Table with a warm smile, choose words that recall not
only Jesus’ death but his resurrection. The simple creed captures it well:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
There’s a dance in progress and we have been invited. I pray your
response will be, “Thank you for the invitation. I’d love to participate.”
Rev. Dr. Constance M. Cherry