I grew up loving and worshiping Christ before I knew to follow him. Worship was like breathing and I a natural believer. This is not true for all. My home and church offered me the grace of believing and I eagerly drank. Since those young days of believing, I’ve discovered that the heart of Christian faith is more: transformation and discipleship – never far removed from worship.
Luke ends his Gospel as he began it: with worship in the temple. Zechariah started it off, he, a priest of Israel, offering incense in the temple – with an angel’s announcement and his disbelief, with his being struck dumb and thus unable to offer the priestly benediction to the people waiting at the temple steps to be blessed.
Luke ends with the risen Christ appearing to his discipleship, with his gracious forgiveness and new commissioning of them, to use the words of T.S. Eliot, “With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling.”
It ends with disciples worshiping the risen Christ, and Christ lifting his hands and blessing them and with the disciples returning to Jerusalem, where they “were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” – the last words of the Gospel.
People throughout the years have encountered the living Christ, not as those disciples in those first days of Easter did, but encountered his Spirit nonetheless: In the breaking of the bread, at the table together, in the opening of scripture, together on mission among the least of these, and in a myriad of ways. As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it:
...For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
...through the features of men’s faces.
St. Francis met him in the body of a leper. Carl Bates found him, or was found by him, suicidal in a hotel room, when he opened a Gideon Bible.
Anne Lamott’s story is one of my favorites. Christ came to her while she was recovering from an abortion. He appeared to her in her room “watching with patience and with love.” She turned away from him and said out loud, “I’d rather die.”
The next day she wondered whether it was a hallucination “born of fear and self-loathing and booze and the loss of blood.” She writes:
“I didn’t experience him so much as the hound of heaven, as the old description has it, as the alley cat of heaven who seemed to believe that if it just keeps showing up, mewling outside your door, you’d eventually open up and give him a bowl of milk.”
She’d kept resisting him until she returned to her church in a ghetto of Marin County which had become God’s salvation to her. “That’s where I was when I came to,” she writes, “and there I came to believe.”
When she sat in church that Sunday the sermon, she says, was about as sensible as someone trying to convince her of the existence of extraterrestrials! (You might have felt the same about my sermon today.) But the music did it:
The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape it. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.
She began to cry and left before the benediction. As she raced home she sensed Christ, like a little cat, running along at her heels.
When she arrived at her houseboat she paused, opened the door and said to Jesus, “I quit... all right. You can come in.” This, she writes, “was my beautiful moment of conversion.”
I’ve never had anything so dramatic happen to me. But there have been moments: in worship, in song, at table, at my desk, among the least of these, when I’ve felt like “one of worst of these, in the embrace of a friend, in church, along a mountain trail, in the face of another, Christ has been near.”
And I’ve felt I could worship forever.
Dr. Fred Andrea is pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.