Corporate Worship Gives Us the Experience of the Embodied

    Series: 52 Reasons: The Importance of Corporate Worship
    January 8, 2021
    George Robertson
    Exodus 3:12
    “He said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’”
     


     
    This benefit of corporate worship has been highlighted by its absence during the pandemic. Our communications team has done an excellent job of enabling us to worship via livestream. They have worked hard to make it as real as possible for us as we join together in worship from our living rooms. But we must admit there is no substitute for really being together, looking around the sanctuary and seeing our brothers and sisters.

    Writing on Christmas Eve, Esau McCaulley, an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, recently articulated this in an opinion piece for The New York Times:


    If bodies and physical spaces are really means by which we attempt to encounter God on earth, something immeasurable is lost when worship goes virtual. This loss becomes all the more acute during the holiday season, a time when churches are usually filled with candles, flowers and flowing vestments. Instead, the choir stalls and pews will be largely empty. [2]

    We know that the entire Bible is the Word of God, not just the red words which indicate the words of Jesus. However, there are words in quotation marks which convey that God is speaking directly to someone in the narrative. God makes five such statements in this narrative. Let me remind you what they are:

    “I will be with you” (3:12)
    “I am who I am” (3:14)
    “What’s in your hand? … Stretch forth your hand ... Pour it on the ground” (4:2-9)
    “I will speak and will teach you what to say” (4:11-12)
    “He will speak for you ... take this staff” (4:14)

    These are remarkable statements by God, but what is also amazing is the way Moses protests after each one. Speaking to God in the burning bush, Moses flatly denies that God’s word can be trusted (4:1). This is impertinence! [1] But just the kind of impertinence we are experts in! God provides Moses an objective sign for each of the promises he gave him in the first part of this passage. He works the same way for us through corporate worship. Why does God grant us this assurance? Because we need it.

    God gives us days of worship where we gather and a minister of the gospel stands up and preaches God’s Word. In other words, God incarnates his Word to us. He also uses us to minister to another. As we sit next to one another, he incarnates his word to us because each Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We can’t explain it, but somehow God’s Word becomes more certain to us when it is incarnated by another person and repeated to us in worship. It can’t be duplicated in any other way. We need the experience of the embodied. 

    While the pandemic has often kept us apart from one another, therefore limiting the experience of the embodied we need so much, the pandemic has not limited God's ability to be with us. At Christmas we celebrated the ultimate embodying accomplish in Christ – Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). When Jesus ascended to Heaven, he left the Holy Spirit (John 16:7) who indwells all those who are believers in Christ (Ezekiel 36:27; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). The Spirit binds us together as believers (Ephesians 4:3), spread apart as we may be.

    Virtual worship is certainly no substitute for gathering together in person, but God is not being hindered in his plan. In the meantime, we “long with impatience for those absent…[welcoming] them with gladness on their arrival.” [3]


    [1] Esau McCalley, “Why You Can’t Meet God Over Zoom,” The New York Times, December 24, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/24/opinion/zoom-church-christmas-covid-loss.html.
    [2] Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, pp. 123–124). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
    [3] Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford, 1998), 4.7.13.

      

      

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