Holy Week and a Worship-Formed Life

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, we begin a time in the church calendar referred to as “Holy Week.” Now, this week is really not any “holier” than any other week of the year. Jesus is Lord over all days and weeks, and through his kingship every day bears a weight of glory that will see fulfillment in holiness with the life to come.

At the same time, we also acknowledge the necessity for people to have rhythms to life and worship— this is one of the very reasons why the Scriptures give us a patterned flow to our worship which we seek to emulate in our own Sunday liturgies.

This worship rhythm also extends to our daily and weekly routines as well as our seasonal and annual routines. A lifestyle of worship is really a lifestyle shaped by the relational and doxological flow we see in the liturgy of the church. Seeing our lives conformed to the heart of God as he’s revealed through the Word applied by the Spirit, means seeing our very lives shaped according to our pattern of worship:

  1. God seeks us, we respond to him in praise and adoration
  2. He reveals our struggles and sin and reminds us of the accomplished work of the Son in the gospel
  3. We respond through confession and thanksgiving, experiencing the Father’s embrace through this regular act of reconciliation
  4. He shapes our minds, hearts, and wills through Jesus present with us in his Word
  5. He nourishes us in grace through Jesus present with us in the sacrament and through the Spirit’s ministry through one another
  6. He sends us out in mission and lifestyles of worship in our vocations under the kingship of Jesus and in the power of his Spirit to continue God’s redemption in the world

This pattern of worship ought not to simply mark our Sunday worship services, this is a pattern which our entire lives conform to and are shaped by through a liturgical lifestyle. We are fundamentally worshiping creatures, and so at the very core of who we are, we are formed by some sort of pattern of worship and the object of our worship. We follow the liturgical narrative above because it is the very narrative that is presented to us in the Scriptures, and is the true meta-narrative that makes sense of the way things actually are in God’s creation, and the way things ought to be under the kingship of Jesus.

This rhythm of worship-in-life also challenges our natural tendency toward narcissism: “my life is about me.” The Redemptive-Historical story of the Bible, and the liturgy shaped by it, repeatedly insist that our life is not about us, life is about the Triune God— his glory, his rescue, his renewal, his presence with his people; all accomplished through his redemption of me as a member of his people, the church.

Worship is a continuing recapitulation and re-participation of these truths and of this drama. We are continually drawn back into God’s story, shaped by God’s hand, and made more aware of God’s presence in Christ through his indwelling Spirit.

Why do I write all of this?

Because we need to think about worship. What it is. What the purpose of it is. Where it points us. How this is a delight and a discipline God calls his people to enact regularly as the core of our life together. Especially as the church I serve approaches our 1-year birthday as a worshiping congregation, and as we all approach the week of remembrance of the Passion of Jesus, we must keep God’s pattern and intent for worship as a priority in our personal and communal life.

So, a week such as this coming week is an important place-marker in lives customarily marked by busyness, frenetic pace, activities, demands, a lack of silence and space for contemplation of our God. What would it mean for you to seek to make intentional space in your life this week to move through the rhythms of liturgy personally, with a small group, with your family, with your congregation?

Let’s contemplate the cross and resurrection of Jesus this week— the reason for this (the brokenness, sin, and rebellion of the world and our selves), the historic actions taken through these, God’s disclosure of his heart and fulfillment of his plan through this, the rescue and establishment of not just “me,” but of “me in the community of Christ’s church.”

Let’s worship the Redeemer this week, and celebrate our union with him through his work in the body he has redeemed- his church.

Freedom and the Will and the Church

Once each month a group of friends– people from our church, and other friends not involved in church– get together at the sweetest brewery in town (Function Brewing: revived brick building, maple floors, great beer) and haggle through an issue of the day. We’ve discussed topics like Suffering, Race Relations, Power & Authority, Homosexuality, Trinitarian Theology, Ghosts, Anger, you name it.

This morning I got a text from one of the new guys who just had a big discussion with his friends on the topic of freedom of the will. I texted him back. A rather long response to be typing with my thumbs on an iPhone. My “shoot from the hip” thoughts on freedom of the will are below. Perhaps these will stir up your own considerations, or rekindle your sense of community desire and commitment…

A discussion on “Freewill” all hinges on your understanding of the notion of “free”. What is “freedom” ultimately?— Is it the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want? If this is the case, then our freedom is then contingent on both our “wanting” and our ability to actually get/do what we “want”. If this then is the case, then the conversation about free will must necessitate a conversation about human desire, and even whether our desires themselves, or our ability to desire ultimate good, are in line with what “goodness” actually is.

If freedom is the ability to choose that which we desire, then I must admit that we do have a certain amount of freedom, yet even that is boundaried and shaped by our circumstances as well as our capacities to gain what we desire. If freedom is the ability to choose that which is good, then I must confess that when I honestly examine my own heart (aka “desires”), if I were left to my self, without the extra nos (“outside of me”) intervention of an ultimately good and powerful being who has the power, desire, and will to reshape my ability to desire, I would never choose that which is good. Even when I seemingly chose the “good” (eg helping others, caring for the environment, etc), self-oriented fixation on the pleasing of my own desire, propping up of my own deficiency, exercise of power over others, would always weasel in. Thus, left to myself, any good that I choose would become corrupted by Self. In which case, I must then ask, “what kind of freedom is it that is enslaved to the pleasing or justification of one’s own desire?”

Further, this question also brings up another dynamic of freedom, one that is fairly recent to western thought since introduced by Kant, and this is one of the idea of “autonomy.” Is “freedom” the same thing as “autonomy”? And is “autonomy” even a good thing, something that is inherent in human design? I would argue that it is indeed not good; however, it has become one of the primary drivers of our current culture- both inside and outside of the church.

“I decide what is best for me.” “I am my own authority.” “Just me and Jesus.” “I think, therefore I am, therefore I can be utterly independent of any one, any institution, and community, any tradition, all of those are suspect and come under submission to the autonomous self.”

Although perhaps not inherent within the idea of “freedom,” the above mindset has become the paradigm that many approach the notion of “freedom” with. And, this also is why “church” has become for many a “food court” for the autonomous self, who is under no authority, to consume and get their feet wet with no reciprocal obligation or commitment to a real church organism AND organization.

Certainly, human community should not be some huge complex co-dependent community, people should be appropriately “differentiated,” but this is far from the notion of “autonomy” or “freedom” that has become the ideal in our present generation. But, healthy “personal differentiation” (or boundaries of knowing where your Self ends and another person’s Self begins) has become overtaken and exaggerated by our hyper-individualistic tendencies further exacerbated by a tech age that facilitates and encourages solipsism. This is so because “autonomy”/”freedom” fundamentally has come to connote Self over and against commitment and submission to the common good, which leads to lack of commitment, lack of unity, and a bunch of lonely people wanting relationship yet medicating themselves with the “aura” of community.

And, this is where I see our obsession with autonomy leaving this current generation. I meet person after person, couple after couple (some whose relationships are falling apart), who say they want “community,” “relationship,” “vulnerability,” etc. yet when these things actually require something of them… “peace out,” they’re gone. The reason why is that true “community,” real “relationship,” intimate “vulnerability,” is not something that we can merely consume or splash around in the shallows with. Our generation has created cliches out of these concepts in order to suit their desires (not for true transformation which ultimately requires the pushing in to conflict and pain under Christ’s leadership), but for an easy, emotional therapy, a soothing of their anxiety so they can continue functioning as autonomous Selves, with no attachments holding them back, no commitments restraining their options, no boundaries restricting their attempts at immediate gratification of desire, and no obligations to an institution bigger than themselves requiring them to sacrifice personal preference for the sake of the “community” they so long to have surrounding them.

And, this also is another key to the “aura of community.” No longer do people in our culture see the necessity to become a part of a community, for them to enter in to belong; instead, this has been exchanged for the expectation that the community is meant to curve in around them, their desires, their schedules, their needs, their tastes become the all important priority for the community of faith. And, so churches have learned to strategize and create program after program, make change after change to suit the constantly fluid desires of the consumeristic American mindset. And, so we see a schizophrenic theological and ecclesiological landscape, of churches creating their own individualistic confessions and practices to appeal to the masses who expect a food court filled with options, each courting them, personally.

There no longer remains the calling of the community to the person, requiring something of the person to become a part of the community. This smells of heavy-handed authority because it obligates and limits personal autonomy for the sake of the church community’s mission and priorities qua Jesus’ missional church.

Give over, submit, our individualistic autonomies for the real freedom that comes with will and desire renewed by the God who calls us into the true and good community of Jesus’ church? No way. This is not what our generation wants. I’ll stick with the aura of community, thank you very much. Give me the cliche, give me the shallows.