As Christians we worship Jesus, that’s a given, but we need to remember that Jesus was a worshiper too. Sounds obvious, read the gospels and it is very clear that worship was a central part of the life of Jesus.
We know that Jesus went to Temple and synagogue to engage in formal acts of worship that were part and parcel of his Jewish faith. When he climbed the Temple steps to participate in the liturgy of the day, he did so surrounded by throngs of other God-honoring Jews singing their psalms of ascent; when he attended synagogue, he participated with other Jewish males (the females were behind a screen and watched the proceedings. Sorry ladies!) who each took up their role in the creeds, lectionary scripture readings, sermons, discussions, and appointed prayers.
Jewish worship was largely communal worship. The community was gathered as God’s chosen people to meet God as it fulfilled the Law. There was the sound of the greeting of friends, the chanting of the priests, the bleating of the animals poised for sacrifice, the noise and chatter of little children, the trumpet blasts, mournful prayers of those wailing their intercessions, the beggars’ cries for alms. When Jesus faithfully kept the Sabbath and the vital feast days of his heritage, he did so in community. Jesus was a worshipper as one in a crowd. True, life-affirming worship.
But there is another side to Jesus the worshiper. He also worshipped in isolation. He worshipped remotely. He had no Internet or digital screen, no laptop or tablet. When he worshipped remotely, it was remote. Private prayer times were a priority for Jesus. He sought out these times of worship. There he engaged in solitude, silence, listening, stillness. He actually frequently sought out such occasions. Sometimes it was before dawn: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35, NIV). Sometimes it was mid-afternoon: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” (Matthew 14:23, NIV). He left the crowds; the crowds didn’t leave him. He was not alone in worship simply because there was no other option; he wasn’t alone because there was a lockdown order. He was alone intentionally. Jesus knew well the benefit—even the necessity—of one-on-one worship, face to face with God remotely.
The thing about Jesus the worshipper is this: His public worship side was nourished by his private worship side, and vice versa. Worship is not going to church or private devotions. Worship consists of going to church and one’s private prayer life. When believers come from their remote places of worship to gather as God’s chosen people to meet the Triune God, our worship is richer, deeper, truer, far more robust for having been nourished by the quiet of the desert.
Sadly in our modern busy world we feel it is OK to skip the remote bit, the daily prayer, the daily reading of the bible and simply turn up to church on Sunday. It is like joining a choir and skipping the rehearsals and only turning up for the concert. You are out of tune and time with the rest of the choir.
It may be providential that the pandemic we are experiencing coincided with the season of Lent. During Lent we embrace the opportunities provided for us in the desert. We come face to face alone with God and let God’s Spirit penetrate our protective layers to re-fashion us into the divine image of Jesus Christ. Yet as austere as the desert is, there is hope there, for we discover that the greater we identify with the suffering of our Lord, the more joyful the Alleluias on Easter.
For now, all of worship is private worship. We find ourselves exclaiming with the psalmist, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps. 84:2, NIV). How long the yearning? How long the fainting and crying out? We don’t know for how long. Perhaps as long as it takes to understand that as it was for Jesus, the consistent rhythm of public and private worship is critical to our spiritual lives. The wonderful day of reuniting for corporate worship did not happen on Easter Day this year, but whenever it happens— May 10th, June 7th even some time in August—that will be Easter Sunday! We will feel like God’s people returning from Babylon to worship in Jerusalem: “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion…Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’ The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Ps. 126:1-2, NIV).
On that day we will find that the greeting of friends will never be more precious, the hymns and songs never more beautiful, the sound of worship never more profound, our prayers never more full of faith. Worshiping remotely will once again be joined with worshiping together in person. We will have sung the songs of Lent and be ready to sing the song of Easter: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”
God bless and stay safe,