12.9 “Reverence and Awe” September 2008
I find the book of Hebrews instructive for delineating how the Old Covenant finds enhanced fulfillment in the New. Christ is a better creation rest than a ritual day. His blood speaks a better word than that of Abel—which a warring world needs to hear! And, yes, Christ is a better priest than Aaron, a better sacrifice than goats, a better prophet than Moses, a better revelation than Sinai, and his kingdom a better covenant community than Israel. The writer reminds us we “have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem”—humanity’s true homeland.
If God’s voice at Sinai made Moses tremble, how much more reverently ought we to worship our Creator, who will, indeed, shake up the whole cosmos before the drama of redemption is completed! Ponder with me how to be faithful to this pointed admonition.
”Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe “ (12:28 TNIV)
In our current culture, however, some folks resonate with Amos’ indictment of ritual that substitutes for ethical obedience, “I despise your feast days.” (5: 21. But pop culture devotees should also note verse 23, “away with the noise of your songs!”)
Although dictionary definitions of solemnity include: inspiring wonder, reverence, and ceremony, this word popularly connotes “without joy or humor”. The writer of Hebrews doesn’t prescribe dull ritual. Reverence doesn’t exclude joy. In Laughing Pilgrims (Paternoster, 2006), Howard Macy makes a good case for humor on the spiritual journey. “Holy hilarity” (Howard’s term) can at times expose pious pomposity. But he and I agree that levity also can be wrongly used, diverting attention from Deo to ego, stifling those “fear and trembling” experiences of God as wholly Other, of “the crackling power that steals our breath away.” (Rhythms of the Inner Life, Fleming H. Revell, 1988,p. 65). Reverence offers a context for Spirit-anointed ministry.
How, like Job of old, do we put hand to mouth in awe before God’s creation? We can’t control the constellation Orion, nor by our wisdom does the hawk soar. In meetings for worship how do we incorporate both an informality that welcomes everyone and a formality that turns them reverently to the Lord? Let’s heed Paul’s admonition to: “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God?” (2 Cor. 7:1) By becoming the persons Jesus calls us to be, who “worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth”(John 2: 23), our meetings open to the unction and anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Silence is one tried and tested Quaker path toward reverent worship, both for individual spirituality and as a vital part of group worship. This discipline liberates us to listen for what our prophet, priest and king, Jesus, has to say to us, individually and as the body of Christ.
Peace and joy!