“Relationship.” An overused word in our time, perhaps. Yet it can scuff at the root of what life — both temporal and eternal — is about. When considered in juxtaposition with ritual in the context of worship, relationship may be even more crucial.
Brad Carman, a preacher in Delaware, wrote this for his bulletin recently, springing out of Heb. 9:1-5:
In these opening passages, the author briefly takes his readers into the highly ritualized worship of the Jewish Tabernacle. . . .
. . . Almost everyone still has some rituals in his/her life and worship. (We sit in the same pew, order the same foods, sing the same songs, etc.) But more importantly, these rituals of Tabernacle worship serve a valuable purpose as summary of the first covenant God made with His people. They describe a system in which a Holy God is inaccessible to His people except through a series of sacrifices made by High Priest for himself and the people he represents. Sin has separated us from God and the idea of an intimate relationship with a Holy God is unthinkable under such a system.
That all changed when Christ came and ushered in a new and better covenant with God. This new covenant still involved a blood sacrifice but this offering was the blood of the Son of God, delivered to the eternal dwelling place of God. As our High Priest, he continually dwells in God’s presence providing us an opportunity for an intimate relationship.
In a recent interchange with Alan Knox on his blog, I found a thoughtful person with more time and careful insights than I: he appropriately, kindly challenged several of my hastily penned comments. Yet I continue to believe his understanding of the relationship of worship and service is a trifle flawed. (I know, I know — whose understanding isn’t flawed? But this topic is important to me beyond most other things of the Lord, and most of the Christian world has gotten it so wrong.)
Brad’s comments above show something I concur with, believing it is significant: a fundamental difference between Jewish and Christian worship lies in the difference between the “series of sacrifices” to which Brad refers above on the one hand, and the spiritual attitude of reverence, adoration, and homage on the other.
Under the New System, worship may must not be confined to ritual acts. Rather, our worship of God is based on a more intimate (can anyone say “Incarnation” and not think there’s a different approach to God now?!) relationship. Latreuo is the Greek word that appears to refer, more often than not, to the former, Jewish rituals (≈things done) and is found in Romans 12:2; proskuneo is the word that renders the attitude of obeisance, homage, reverential adoration (John 4, Revelation 4-5). Hebrews 13:15-16 nicely sets these two word-concepts together, simultaneously differentiating and relating the two.
The above paragraph is an oversimplification, but I present it for thought and comment nonetheless.
[Coming soon … I’ve been thinking a lot about worship recently, spurred by Alan’s blog and various other stimuli. I’m preparing a post on the notion of sacrifice in worship, and if you have any thoughts to contribute in advance, I’d love to see them.]