Selections on New Creation Week 12
Director of the Center for Biblical and Theological Education
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come. (Revelation 22:17)
The sanctuary flooded as hundreds poured in through the doors. Grief-stricken, fearful, and confused, we held hands or linked arms as we entered in a hush. We crowded way too close together on hard wooden pews, overflowed the balcony, lined the aisles, filled each chair hastily set up. There was no mass marketing — the plans had been put together just the night before. No prelude, no high-powered band, no slick technology, no big-name personality. We came to pray, to read God’s Word, to lament, to sing, to be together, and most importantly to seek God’s presence. The swell of our voices crested as we repeatedly sang, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” As the song gave language to our heart’s cry, each refrain was answered with a deepening sense of God’s Spirit. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus, into this broken place, into our broken lives, into our broken community. Come and bring your kingdom, your shalom, where all is good and all is right. Come, Lord Jesus. Here and now. As we grieve. As we cry out. As we hope. As we look to you for healing. Come, Lord Jesus.
This memory from noon on Friday, June 6, 2014, at First Free Methodist Church on the campus of Seattle Pacific University pervades my waking and at times my sleeping mind. What a privilege to be a part of this stream of humanity coming together to seek God’s presence and peace. What horror preceded this scene. Come, Lord Jesus [Author’s Note 1].
I wonder: what might it be like to experience this sense of God’s Spirit on an ongoing basis? How does the biblical account shape the ways we live and move and have our being — both in crisis and in our day-to-day routines? After exploring God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation via the Lectio, how do we move from talking about Scripture to fleshing it out in our lives and in our worshipping communities? How do we live out the “So what?” question?
This series we began to approach this huge “So what?” question by hearing from nine different Lectio writers drawing from fifteen Scripture passages on new creation [Author’s Note 2]. We’ve plumbed the various concepts, shapes, and venues of God’s gracious reconciliation in our primary relationships: reconciliation between God and humanity, humanity’s reconciliation with each other, and reconciliation with creation. From each scriptural context we’ve been challenged to live out the improvisation of our lives based on God’s ongoing story of salvation as laid out in Scripture [Author’s Note 3]. We’ve been called to live as part of God’s redemptive work in Christ, reconciling the world to God’s self. And we’ve begun to sort through what it looks like for God to entrust this message of reconciliation to us, God’s people, the Church (2 Corinthians 5:16–21).
The final voice of Christian Scripture proclaims in two words a response to this “So what?” question: “Worship God!” This resounding imperative is repeated in two different scenes at the close of the book of Revelation. In each account John has just seen a vision of worship in God’s new creation: the wedding supper of the Lamb (19:7–8), and the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of New Jerusalem (22: 1–6). In both accounts John falls at the feet of the angel who shows him these visions as if he is ready to worship the angel, and then immediately John is corrected and strongly redirected to “Worship God!” (19:10; 22:9).
It seems simple: Worship God! But this straightforward directive demands more than a set of routine practices on a given day in a given space. And while regularly congregating with God’s people is an absolutely essential and life-giving practice, we are called to more than participation at an event. Rather, in response to God’s gracious invitation, we are called to worship God with all that we have and all that we are in every moment of every day, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
Such worship of God ultimately reframes our lives as responses to God’s good news, to the grace-filled canon of Scripture, to the Spirit’s wooing of us to salvation. Such worship of God redirects our attention to God’s new creation. Such worship of God rewires our defaults so that we trust God alone as “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB), “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you […] to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Such worship of God retrains us to attend, to listen, to turn, and to respond in faithful obedience. Such worship of God restores freedom as we improvise on God’s story in the fourth act and, empowered by the Spirit, serve God’s people and God’s purposes [Author’s Note 4].
What’s more, this imperative isn’t just a call to worship, but rather specifically a call to “Worship God!” In truth, we don’t need an imperative to worship, for everyone worships, whether or not we are aware of it, whether or not we ever darken the door of a church, synagogue, or temple. Like John in these scenes from Revelation, we fall at the feet of something — but something less than God. So we need not ask whether we worship, but rather what or whom we worship. To what or to whom do we ascribe worth? To what or to whom do we look for a sense of well-being? What preconscious settings tell us who we are?
These are particularly tough questions these days. Mid-summer I unexpectedly spent a week in Wichita, Kansas — a last-minute trip to assist my 90-year-old parents in the midst of serious health concerns. In this season of their lives, I watched energy ebb away, I prayed and anointed them with oil, and I wept over the inevitable. As a result, I now am calling into question all I have taken for granted, and again coming to terms with the stories, habits, and systems that have formed me. I am realizing how much I have looked to these two to tell me who I am, how much I have relied on them for my sense of well-being. So come Lord Jesus — come into this journey of grief and self-discovery.
Augustine has often been quoted saying, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”Christian philosopher and anthropologist James K. A. Smith rephrases that by saying, “we’re absolutely dying to give ourselves away to something” [Author’s Note 5]. If this is true, then we are designed to worship, wired to give ourselves away. Our liturgies, both sacred and secular, define reality for us, shape what we love, and direct how we act. And once so assimilated, as Smith warns us, we all too often may spend the rest of our days “making bread for idols” (Jeremiah 7:18) [Author’s Note 6].
So if our hearts are restless until they rest in God, what does it mean not just to worship, but to “worshipGod,” as Revelation exhorts? How can our liturgies in life assimilate us to a heavenly city of ordered loves — to the New Jerusalem?
To worship with a conviction that we are in the presence of an almighty and all-loving God requires more than manipulating the elements of our worship programs, incorporating new technology, or updating our church music. Worship is more than a box on our weekly checklist; worship is that which calibrates our inner workings and desires — that which defines our picture of the good life and compels us to act. We need more than a jazzed-up Sunday morning feel-good experience to draw us into God’s presence and enable God’s Holy Spirit to recalibrate our lives according to a Spirit-oriented compass. We can’t expect some newfangled worship strategy or any “tried and true” worship patterns to empower the Spirit’s healing work in our lives.
Rather, the biblical imperative to worship God calls for a complete reordering of our imaginations and our lives. As Smith claims, we need a “pedagogy of desire” [Author’s Note 7], a method of teaching us to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Such pedagogy occurs under the lifelong tutelage of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer — a process also known as sanctification. In the Spirit’s classroom, worship serves as an “induction into ‘the real world,’” a “space in which we learn to take the right things for granted precisely so we can bear witness to the world that is to come and […] remake God’s world” [Author’s Note 8]. Christian worship in community draws us into union with Christ to shape, form, equip, and prime us as actors in God’s kingdom — God’s ongoing story of salvation.
But what does this look like? The book of Revelation as Scripture’s concluding voice provides a grammar for worship. At its close, our attention is drawn to the declaration of Christ repeated three times: “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20), and to the final picture of worship in 22:17. Combined with this verse, Revelation’s closing words, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20), serve as a primer for this pedagogy of desire.
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’” But to whom do they speak?
“And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’” But to whom are hearers to speak?
What I find in this verse is a both/and — a multi-directional picture of worship based on an articulation of our desire: Come, Lord Jesus.
This two-way ripple image of worship looks like this: In the opening line, the Spirit and the bride are around the throne, initiating this cry to God and to the Lamb: Come! (Or “Come, Lord Jesus!”) But their cry also serves as an invitation to those who hear. As the Spirit and the Church worship, everyone who hears is drawn in, and “come” becomes an invitation not only to join this scene of worship, but also to desire this coming of Christ. We are bidden to come into the circle of those who worship around God’s throne, and as we do we also learn to desire the one who bids us. This cry flows outward until ultimately everyone who is thirsty hears the cry, desires this water of life, and is invited to receive the gift. In this multidimensional picture, worship voices are magnified upward and echo outward to draw others in. And Christ’s promise beautifully completes this scene: “Surely I am coming soon,” until all of Scripture is completed with the final, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20)
As this simple request becomes etched into our hearts — a repeated longing that we practice breathing and praying — our lives are reordered and refocused, and our desires are reset. And as this learned yearning becomes engrained into our lives, we give worth and honor and praise — we worship God!
Eugene Peterson describes these multiple directions in temporal terms: “The act of worship rehearses in the present the end that lies ahead. Heaven is introduced into the present”[Author’s Note 10]. So today, in the midst of whatever burdens or fears weigh on us, and as we acknowledge the brokenness of our lives: Come, Lord Jesus. Today as we do not know in completeness the final victory of God and do not yet experience the fullness of the new creation that Revelation depicts: Come, Lord Jesus. Today in a fractured world where school shootings have somehow become routine, where thousands of innocent children suffer from malnutrition and abuse, where war and genocide and suffering go almost without remark: Come, Lord Jesus.
May this cry become as breath. May this prayer reshape our hearts and minds and imaginations and desires and bank accounts and plans and families and communities: Come, Lord Jesus. May we by faith rehearse something that is not yet here but to which we look: Come, Lord Jesus. May we join the echoes of this deep longing so that all who are thirsty may drink the life-giving water: Come, Lord Jesus. And may God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) as this anthem of anticipation and yearning continues: Come, Lord Jesus.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift […]
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:17, 20)
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