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The What and Why of Worship from a Who's Perspective

By Jon Jordening
Director Of Worship Arts, CUI Campus Ministries
Executive Director, Center for Worship Leadership
Concordia University Irvine

Illustration of Who's singing around the Christmas tree

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, will stand close together...with Christmas bells ringing. They'll stand hand in hand...and those Whos...will start singing!

The Grinch hated that. He hated everything associated with Christmas –– the hand-holding and singing, the ribbons and bows, the trees and stockings, the gift-giving, and most of all, that feast! Apparently, it was because his heart was two sizes too small. Whatever the reason, the Grinch was a Who-hater. And, after 53 years of enduring the same vexatious Who-family Christmas, he decided that he would put an end to it. You know the rest of the story: the Grinch disguises himself as Santa Claus (and his dog like a reindeer), sneaks down into Who-ville in the middle of the night, steals everything in the village associated with the Who Christmas celebration, and then heads back up the mountain to listen for the sorrowful cries of the Who- community as it wakes to find that Christmas had been stolen from them. Spoiler alert –– his plan didn’t work. The presents were gone, but the Who-community still received their gift. The tinsel and ribbon were taken, the cupboards empty, and the walls bare, but they still had cause to stand together and sing. Christmas had arrived. Or, more fittingly, the Christ of Christmas!

For many of us, holiday seasons can epitomize the notion of celebration, and for some, the words "Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, etc,” evoke a winsome image that reminds us that we, too, have a place and a reason to gather as a community. Similarly, the Venite (Latin for "oh, come"), the song of praise taken from Psalm 95:1-2 that is sung at the beginning of Matins and Morning Prayer, invites the Christian community to gather in celebration:

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Indeed, celebrations mark our love for the things that have captured our heart in a remarkable way, and while we can celebrate anything by ourselves, the best celebrations always seem to be the ones where everyone comes together under a common invitation. The animated Who-families emerging from their homes standing together, hand in hand, singing, seems to be in response to some sort of invitation. Not unlike the one we receive in Psalm 95 –– Oh come, let us...sing to the Lord. Oh come, let us...make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Oh come, let us...come into his presence with thanksgiving. Oh come, let us...make a joyful noise with songs of praise.

In our common life as Christians we encourage one another as baptized brothers and sisters in Christ, to regularly join together with thankful hearts in the presence of the Triune God. Worship, as celebration, expresses the love we have for Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s what we do. But that’s only half of the story of worship. The reason WHY we gather is the most important part –– He first loved us in his Son, Jesus!

Psalm 95 continues with verses 3-7:

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

The Hebrew word “ki” (kē), which literally means “because,” is translated as “for” in Psalm 95, and is the signpost pointing to the WHY of our gathering. The Triune God is “a great God, and a great King above all gods.” He is the creator of all things. He is our Maker and our God, and we are “the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” He is our Lord and the “rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1). What this psalm is anticipating comes into focus with the coming of Christ. In Jesus, the Maker becomes part of his creation. Our great God takes on our weakness and suffers the cross to save his people. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep of his hand. We worship in response to what God has done for us in Christ.

At times we are tempted to think that worship is something we initiate or just something that we do for God. When we look more closely, however, we see that the opposite is true. God makes us. Christ redeems us. The Holy Spirit calls us to faith and gathers us together as the people of God. Our heavenly Father gives his gifts to his gathered people –– his word, his grace, his mercy. He is giving over and over and over again, so it is only natural that we respond with expressions of praise and thanksgiving. The fullness of God and all that he graciously gives to us in-and-through Christ is the WHY of our thankful worship!

And what about that huge list of toys that drew the ire of the Grinch: jing-tinglers, floo-floobers, and sloo-slunkers, just to name a few? Cindy Lou Who knew the difference between a trumtooka and the real gift of Christmas, while the Grinch mistakenly thought that these trinkets were synonymous with Christmas itself. He was wrong, and sometimes we too, wrongly value the style of our worship gathering – the band vs. the pipe organ – instead of the Triune God himself. We can never afford to confuse the trappings of our worship gathering with the living and giving God we encounter therein! The adornments of worship do not give us life, only Jesus does that; and when we gather to celebrate in worship, we do so knowing the difference. May our Lord and Savior, Jesus, grant us this wisdom for the sake of a world whose heart is often “two sizes too small.”

Tags: Worship Theology

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