I’m doing some theological thinking about worship lately and to help organize my thoughts, I’m writing. This is the first of probably 4 posts offering my thoughts on a narrative theology of trinitarian worship. Here, I’m using the term “narrative” (yes, all you theological bloggers out there know that’s a charged term) because I’m looking to Scripture to narrate the elements I’m focusing on. Worship provides a narrative framework for our lives. It tells the defining Story that organizes (or ought to organize) the rest of our lives into a coherent story. So, let’s look to the Scriptural narrative to give shape to our worship of the Triune God.
I anticipate the posts looking something like this:
1. Worship and Community
2. Worship and Covenant Love
3. Worship and Mission
4. Implications for our Practice of Worship
I’ll probably offer initial thoughts on practice or related concerns/issues in each of the first three (as I do at the end of this one), but I’ll work out implications for practice in a post to itself.
A Narrative Theology of Trinitarian Worship
The core reality of worship is the Triune God. Worship is participation in the life of the Trinity, that is, the corporate enacting of the love relationship between God, the community of God’s people (the “Body of Christ”), and the world. As such, worship is in the image of the Trinity. I will propose here a narrative theology of worship informed by the community, covenant love, and mission of the Trinity as narrated in Scripture. These three overlap into one metanarrative, as will be evident in what follows; we cannot help but speak of the other two in an adequate discussion any one of them. Nonetheless, I will address each of the three (how very trinitarian already!) in turn in order to bring them more clearly into view, thus illuminating the whole. After exploring worship and community, worship and covenant love, and worship and mission, I will offer some ideas on implications of this narrative theology of trinitarian worship, that is, how it may be enacted, or practiced, in a congregation’s worship gathering.
Worship and Community
The Triune God is the eternal holy community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are made for community because humanity is made in the image of God. It is only partially true to say that I, individually, am an image-bearer of God. It is more accurate to describe the community as the image-bearer of God, not only because Scripture is speaking of humanity in Genesis 1:26-28 and not of individual persons, but also because God is Trinitarian Community. Therefore, only humanity as community can bear the image of the Triune God, who is the holy community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” According to Genesis 1, the community of reference is the human community. Genesis 2 and 3 narrate for us humanity’s rejection of God and, by extension, humanity’s place as divine-image bearer.
In God’s redemptive work, to which the Old Testament gives witness, Israel becomes the new divine-image bearing community. Three events narrate this. The first, which I will mention briefly, is the Abraham narrative beginning in Genesis 12 with the calling of Abraham and finding further development in the covenants with Abraham in Genesis 15 and 17. The second is the Exodus narrative of God’s deliverance of and covenant with the tribes of Jacob/Israel. It is marked by the words of God to Pharaoh in Exodus 5:1: “Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.” God delivers the Hebrews as a collective body (In the modern and post-modern West, one aspect of deliverance, since isolation is ubiquitous and individuality a dominant philosophical framework, is that deliverance as a collective body is deliverance into a collective body.), redeeming us as a community, making possible an divine-image bearing community (Incidentally, Pharaoh’s response in verse 2 is instructive for our worship as well: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” Do we not also engage these key questions as worship of God forms us: Who is God? Why should we obey him? Do we know him? Do we obey him? Do we know him in our obedience? Do we not know him, or even un-know him, in our disobedience?) The third follows closely on the heels of the second, and in some ways can be considered the second movement in one work. It is God’s giving of the Covenant of the Law (Torah) to Moses on Mount Sinai. This gift constituted Israel as a collective nation “unto the Lord.” The Law not only constituted them as a distinctive people/nation, it sustained and guided their common life. In cases like that of Josiah (in 2 Kings 22-23) and Ezra/Nehemiah (in the books bearing their names), the Law was an instrument of revived dedication and faithfulness to God. So, the Exodus Event delivered the Israelites from bondage, making possible a divine-image bearing community, and the gift of the Covenant of the Law constituted and sustained that divine-image bearing community to participate in the life of the Trinity by engaging in worship of the Trinity.
In the witness of the New Testament, the Church becomes the new divine-image bearing community. Israel has demonstrated its failure, and, it seems, the inadequacy of the Exodus/Torah “program” for salvific success. Something different is needed. Two events narrate this “something different.” The first is the Jesus narrative of the NT Gospels and Acts. It is most helpful, I think here, to think of the Gospels as relating to us the “Jesus Event” (or “Christ Event”) in order to bring together his conception, birth, life, teachings, miracles, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into one integrated event in a similar way that we can speak of the “Exodus Event” while actually referring to a laundry list of movements within that event: the deliverance of Moses as a baby, the call of Moses, the plagues, the protective word to the Hebrews concerning the tenth plague (use of lamb’s blood on the doorpost), the parting of the Red Sea, etc. Understanding the Jesus Event as a Second Exodus in fact allows us to reinforce, particularly for the Western Church, the nature of deliverance as essentially communal, not individual, experience. Moreover, understanding the Jesus Event as a Second Exodus also makes clear the place of the second movement in God’s redemptive work in the NT, bringing us to our second narrating event: Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit. If the Exodus Event is followed by the gift of the Law, bringing to completion the constituion of Israel as a divine-image bearing community, then following the Jesus Event with Pentecost brings to completion the constitution of the Church (the “Body of Christ”) as the new divine-image bearing community. Formerly the community was delivered from bondage (Exodus Event) into a common life sustained and directed by the Law (Commandments/Gift of Torah). Now the community is delivered from bondage (Jesus Event) into a common life sustained and directed by the Spirit (Pentecost/Gift of the Holy Spirit). The Jesus Event delivers humanity from bondage (this deliverance being a gift, appropriated by the response of faith), making possible a divine-image bearing new community. The pentecostal gift of the Spirit constitutes the Church as a divine-image bearing new community and sustains our on-going life to participate in the life of the Trinity by engaging in worship of the Trinity.
Our worship will be worship in the image of the Trinity, then, inasmuch as our worship forms the Church’s faith as a divine-image bearing community, constituted in God’s creation of humanity and in God’s saving and redeeming action–gifts of calling, deliverance, covenant community life, and gracious power. And our worship will be worship in the image of the Trinity inasmuch as we bear the divine image in the expressing of our faith, specifically in our expressions of praise to and for the nature, character, and actions of the Trinity in ways as robust as the whole witness of the canon of Scripture and in our expressions of community in the liturgical (whether “traditional” or “contemporary”) elements that punctuate our worship services. In reference to “contemporary” expressions of worship, I think of the need to engage in liturgical elements that would bring to those services what elements like the Gloria Patri, the doxology, the Apostles’ Creed, and trinitarian benedictions bring to “traditional” expressions of worship.