Grace Notes and Possibilities: The Work of Worship

Perhaps the main subject of discussion in our Grace Notes and Possibilities sharing was congregational worship—how we miss it, how we’ve adapted it (and how we ourselves have tried with greater or lesser success to adapt to its adaptations!), and how we hope for the day when we can again gather for worship in “the temple of our familiar.”

As your pastor, my primary charge is to lead the congregation in the worship of God. In this context, I have experienced a mix of emotions in seeking to fulfill that role: tremendous pride in the exceptional efforts of our gifted and agile staff, worship planners, and participants; deep gratitude for a patient and encouraging congregation; and a heavy sense of responsibility when virtually transmitted or in-person worship have been experienced as less than ideal, or worse, deeply unsatisfying.

In the coming week we plan to return to the sanctuary for Sunday worship in measured numbers. Those who attend will wear masks, refrain from greeting each other with a holy kiss or even a handshake, and avoid singing. Once again, the prospect of an unsatisfying experience looms large.

In this context, I have found myself returning to a basic understanding of the nature of worship. “Liturgy,” a word particularly important to the Laurel Heights congregation, is drawn from the Greek leit urgia, “the work of the people” to praise and worship God. Work, as we all know, is sometimes rewarding, other times tedious, on a good day satisfying, but often toilsome. What if we thought of worship in that way—not as an experience that would always delight us, but as our work? To frame
this another way, when we go on a mission trip, the objective is to work. Sometimes the work is pleasant and instantly rewarding; but often it is strenuous and exhausting. At the end of such trips someone will invariably say, with other ragged, blistered, sunburned missioners nodding in agreement, “I got more out of it than I gave.”

Worship is our residential mission trip, in which work is understood as an essential part of the endeavor. Our hope is that, having applied a generous measure of discipline and grace to attending a service either online or—with masks and without hugs — in the sanctuary, we will come away from that act of worship as we would a successful mission trip.

The joyful work of worshiping the living God awaits us. Join me on the mission trip, ready for work that will surely be an effort, but to leave us sensing that we received more from it than we gave.

Grace and peace.