Monday, September 29, 2008

Emotional response

How do I know when I have worshipped? Is it when I have had some kind of emotional or visceral response? Is it when I have performed certain actions or cried a certain number of tears?

I think both of these answers, the emotional and the mechanistic, are wrong and for the same reason: They are both about me.

Years ago, I was participating in a celebration of the Lord's Supper. (For all you Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed folks, I'm a Zwinglian in this. If you're a Southern Baptist, it means that I almost certainly believe the same as you about what's going on. But I digress.) At that particular time, I was deeply moved by the service: Meditating on my sin and on the greatness of my Savior. But the next time our church celebrated the Supper, I tried to get the feeling back.

When I was in college (the first time, for those who are keeping track of these things), I did what every underclassman had to do: I took a course in basic psychology. One of the things the book talked about was the lengths to which people will go to capture a feeling they called Nirvana. One of the examples they gave was actually of Roman Catholics celebrating mass. Now, I don't think the authors were talking about the Hindu Nirvana in the theological sense, but only about an emotional sensation.

The authors of the psychology text (No, I don't remember who they were — it was thirty years ago. Deal.) were starting with the assumption that there was nothing there, and that the external observer had a truer idea about what was going on than the participants. (As a response to that, you should try to find C.S. Lewis's little essay, "Meditation in a Toolshed.")

And I realized that was exactly what I was doing, even with my Evangelical belief in what's going on in the Lord's Supper: I was trying to capture an emotional sensation.

It was a sin.

It was a sin because it was about me and what I was feeling and about my response to the message and the ceremony.

So I started thinking about worship and what we go through to "get there," to know we have worshipped. And I wondered if it didn't amount to the same thing.

As Christians, however, we believe there is something there, that it is independent of us, and that something is really going on in the Supper. Where can we go to find out what it is? How about 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

People from various traditions will interpret this in different ways, but the apostle's final statement is something we can all agree on: The Lord's Supper is a proclamation of the Gospel, a declaration that there is forgiveness of sins and of the way forgiveness was procured, and all those who trust in that forgiveness have it.


I brought all that up, not as a thing to talk about (though it's a great subject), but as an example of worship. In particular, when I celebrate the Lord's supper, it's not about me and my feelings, not about me and my response, but about Jesus and His forgiveness.

I claim that this principle holds for all worship: It's not about me and my feelings; it's not about me and my response. It's about Jesus and His forgiveness. I have worshipped when, as a believer, I have proclaimed the Gospel.

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