When you’re but a wee child, everything is new, mysterious, and wonderful. Nothing is mundane or ordinary. The eyes of a child can see the beauty and the tragedy in all things, regardless of what they are, and respond in awe. We all know this to be true, else phrases like “childlike wonder” wouldn’t exist. I suppose it’s a function of inexperience, of naivete, of innocence. Whatever it is, it’s, well, wonderful.
But children grow up. As we age, we seem to lose our senses of wonder and amazement. (If you don’t believe me, try to impress someone.) Adults think we’ve seen it all; nothing is new under the sun. We stop seeing some things entirely, letting our minds fill in the scenery around us — or at least I hope I’m not the only one who hears “a couple of years” every time I ask “How long has that been there.” Things fade into the background, become routine, and cease to make us gasp in amazement.
I wonder sometimes if that’s why worship is unattractive.
People leave the church, stop coming to worship, all the time. It’s currently estimated that around 70% (70!) of young adults who were raised in church no longer attend services. I can’t speak for all 70%, but I’m willing to bet that for a great many of them, worship became routine. Every week at the same time they gathered in the same place to sing the same songs, say the same prayers, hear the same sermons, eat the same bread and drink the same wine. It became boring, dull, and predictable. They never encountered a dynamic, living God, an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present deity who did wild and wonderful things. The Savior of the Universe never did anything exciting, anything requiring imagination and demanding awe.
Recent trends in theology haven’t helped that. Instead of maintaining an emphasis on the mystical and the Other, we’ve focused on concrete rationalism. Apologetics is of inestimable value, don’t get me wrong, but when our corporate worship feels more like a lecture hall than a temple, we’ve misplaced our priorities. It’s true we must make an appeal to the mind, demonstrating a logically consistent and coherent faith. But aren’t we commanded to worship with heart, body, and soul as well? Does the body worship if it never has to do anything to participate in the service? Is the heart moved by data alone? Can a soul be impacted without the mysterious and the numinous?
Liturgical, “high church” worship leaves more room for mystery, true, but I believe it can and should be a part of any worship style. No matter the denomination or the order of service, the worshiper should experience a sense of awe, of wonder. The architecture of the building plays a part in this, as does the decor. The music can help, the prayers can help, the sermon can help. A proper celebration of the sacraments is one of the biggest contributing factors; who can truly grasp the provision of God’s grace through material things and not come away with a sense of wonder?
All of these things, though, should be presentations of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Songs, prayers, sacraments, and sermons all should point us to the crucified and risen Lord — and if they fail to do so, they can’t properly be termed Christian. Without the gospel, there is no worship. Without the gospel, there is no church.
Without the gospel, there is no mystery.
For what can be more mysterious than a God who was dead and yet lives? Than a God who put on flesh and became a perfect man while remaining fully divine? Than a God who loves us enough to do that? Than a single God existing in three Persons so He could do that?
Folks, that’s mysterious. And the proper response to mystery is wonder. Wonder, amazement, a sense of Something Beyond, something incomprehensible and fantastic and awesome. That’s who God is. And if we realize that’s the God we worship, then our praise will never be dull or routine again. Each Lord’s Day will have its own wonderment, its own special feeling of divinity. It will be something we yearn for, a thing longed for and sought after, a thing so different from the mundanity of life it arrests our senses, demands the fullness of body, mind, heart, and soul, and never permits us to simply sit idle and fill in the gaps by rote memory.
It will be something wonderful.