What happens in our public worship? Frederica Matthews-Green writes:
A little church on Sunday morning is a negligible thing. It may be the meekest, and least conspicuous, thing in America. Someone zipping between Baltimore’s airport and beltway might pass this one, a little stone church drowsing like a hen at the corner of Maple and Camp Meade Road. At dawn all is silent, except for the click every thirty seconds as the oblivious traffic light rotates through its cycle. The building’s bell tower out of proportion, too large and squat and short to match. Other than that, there’s nothing much to catch the eye.In a few hours heaven will strike earth like lightning on this spot. The worshipers in this little building will be swept into a divine worship that proceeds eternally, grand with seraphim and incense and God enthroned, “high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). The foundations of that temple shake with the voice of angels calling “Holy” to each other, and we will be there, lifting fallible voices in the refrain, an outpost of eternity.
If this is true, it is the most astonishing thing that will happen in our city today.
In the latest Credenda/Agenda (which isn’t yet online), Doug Wilson argues that it is true — though it’s not so much that heaven touches down on earth as the other way around: “Christians have the enormous privilege of ascending into heaven in their worship on the Lord’s Day.” Commenting on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Wilson writes,
In our public worship, we do not come to a mountain that can be touched (12:18), but we do come to a mountain, a heavenly Zion. What happens when a small group of saints gathers in a clapboard community church somewhere out in the sticks? At their call to worship, they ascend to the City of God, to the heavenly Jerusalem. They walk into the midst of innumerable angels (12:22). They come to the general assembly of the universal Church, and come into the presence of God Himself (12:23).
At last! There’s a new post on Bishop Bill’s blog. Actually, he wrote it ages ago, but due to some glitch with Blogger (a blogoglitch?) he lost his template and wasn’t able to post anything. Yesterday afternoon, I stole (um … borrowed) his identity for a while, reworked his template, and hit “Publish.” He still gets a 503 Error (don’t we all? when will that be fixed?), but at least his post showed up. And now I look forward to more from him. Yes, Bill, that’s a hint.
Tonight, I finished reading Heroes of the City of Man by Peter Leithart. It’s a very helpful introduction to Greek and Roman literature from a Christian perspective. He starts with classical epics — The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid — and then deals with Greek drama, covering a play each by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aristophanes. It took me a long time to read the book, since I was also reading the works he discusses, but it was well worth it. Here’s a quotation to whet your appetite:
Classical epic … leaves us with three fundamental theological options: Heaven rings with the petty squabbling of adolescent gods, which means the world is not under control at all, or heaven and earth are ruled by a heavenly Fuhrer, or things are governed by an impersonal and faceless power that grinds along, indifferent to humanity or justice. Take your pick: chaos, totalitarianism, or determinism. Whichever you choose, the world is a pretty grim place, with no hope for redemption….By contrast, the Bible proclaimed from the beginning that there is one God, Yahweh, who created the world good and rules all things. Violence and evil are not written into the fabric of creation but are due to sin and His righteous judgment on sin, and therefore there is hope of redemption from evil. Ultimate reality is not a gaggle of gods, nor an autocrat, nor an impersonal Fate. Rather, ultimate reality is Three Persons in an eternal communion of love. Above us is a God who is love, whose love overflows in creating a world He did not need and in redeeming a world that had turned from Him. Heaven is not a battlefield or a prison; it is a dance hall filled with song. And, one day, earth will join in (p. 21).
Last Friday, I took a drive through Mormon country (why should the Mormons have all the good scenery?) in southern Alberta to Waterton Park, which is on the Montana-Alberta border. Steve Drent, a member of the congregation here, is one of the managers at a hotel there, so part of my reason for taking the trip was to visit him. I arrived in Waterton around 2:30. Steve was at the desk, but several of his workers had left to return to university, and so he was short-staffed and quite busy. He suggested that I take a hike. No, seriously. He recommended the Bertha Falls trail.
Before setting out, I took a walk around Waterton and stopped for a bite to eat. This was my first visit to Waterton. When I was young, my parents used to rent a cabin in Banff for a week each summer. Today, Banff is wall-to-wall people, but Waterton isn’t nearly that crowded. In fact, Steve has had people tell him that Waterton is like Banff was fifty years ago. Of course, it’s probably busier during the summer, but when I was there it was pretty quiet and there were deer everywhere.
While I was sitting on the porch of the restaurant, I spotted more members of the congregation: Louis and Cindy Brandsma and several of their children . Louis is a painter and lover of nature, and the Brandsmas have been saying for a long time that we ought to take a trip to Waterton together. It turned out that they were camping in Waterton for the weekend and that Louis had wanted to take the Bertha Falls trail that afternoon. So we did.
The trail wasn’t nearly as steep as the one from Lake Louise to the Lake Agnes tea house, but it wasn’t as wide or as developed. We stopped at a lookout with a great view of the Waterton lakes and then continued to the Lower Bertha Falls: beautiful. Across the river, we could see several feet of snow — all that remained of what must have been a huge snowfall (or avalanche) last winter. Louis kept saying that he’d love to see a bear … across the river, of course. I don’t know if I’m that much of a lover of nature. At any rate, we didn’t.
When we got back to Waterton, Steve’s shift had ended and we went for coffee. Steve had another engagement for supper, so I ate supper on my own and then drove back home in the evening, listening as I drove to an interview with Clyde Kilby on one of the Mars Hill tapes, in which he recommended going for a walk outside every day, rain or shine, in order to maintain contact with “real things” — perhaps advice worth taking seriously in a computer age (says he, as he writes a post for his blog).
When I got back to Lethbridge, I went over to Keith and Jenn Griffioen’s place, fed their cat, and watched Snow Falling on Cedars before returning home again. I don’t know why I put off going to Waterton for so long. I think I thought it was farther away, but the drive there is only an hour and a half. I’ll have to go again!
Good news! I’d been a bit concerned about my weight recently. I’d been hoping to lose a few pounds and last week my wish was granted. I lost ten pounds on Friday. Yes, just like that. All of a sudden.
Here’s what happened. I’d had my scale in the basement, where I sometimes exercise, but last week I brought it upstairs. On Friday, Keith and Jenn Griffioen were over. In the course of the evening, Keith departed to another room for a few minutes and returned with the report that my scale was off by at least ten pounds. Jenn then verified it, so I have the confirmation of two witnesses. I’m not particularly glad to discover that I have a defective scale, but it does mean that I’m ten pounds lighter than I thought, so…. Break out the ice cream and let’s celebrate!
Sounding the Alarm: N. T. Wright and Evangelical Theology
N. T. Wright and Reformed Theology: Friends or Foes?
A Study of Justification by Faith
Justification by Faith Alone
Lutheranized Calvinism: Gospel or Law, or Gospel and Law
P. Andrew Sandlin
I’ll certainly be reading this issue with great interest. It also contains the second part of Travis Tamerius’s interview with N. T. Wright. I’ve only skimmed the interview, but here’s one of my favourite quotations. Wright is talking about how Paul’s statement that the Thessalonians had received his message, not as the word of man, but as the word of God:
It’s quite clear what Paul is talking about [in 1 Thessalonians], that he comes into town announcing that Jesus is Lord, as a royal herald. He is saying that the crucified Jesus is the Lord of the world. And this is not, “Here is a way of salvation. You might like to apply it to yourself.” It’s not, “Here is a new way of being religious and you might enjoy it.” This is really an imperial summons: “On your knees!” Nobody ever went into a Roman town and said, “Caesar is lord and you might like to have this experience of acknowledging him as lord if that suits you.” They said, “Caesar is Lord, get on your knees and we want the tax right now.”
This week, I had to write only one sermon instead of my usual two and I finished it early, which freed up the end of the week. Yesterday, I drove up to Calgary where I met my parents, who had driven down from Red Deer. We had lunch and then we drove out to Lake Louise, a little over half an hour northwest of Banff, where we hiked from the chalet up to the teahouse on Lake Agnes.
And when I say “up,” I mean up. We used to hike this path every year when I was still living at home, but they’ve made it steeper since I was a teenager. I used to leave my parents in the dust, but this time I don’t think my father was far behind me at any point.
At the top, we had tea (of course!) and large cookies at the tea house. The tea house is built beside Lake Agnes, and it has a great view of the green water of Lake Louise down below. It’s quite high up and the wind off Lake Agnes and the glacier was chilly, so the tea was very welcome.
The descent was much easier and, since I wasn’t panting for breath and expecting my heart to beat its way out of my ribcage as I was on the way up, I was able to observe a lot more and do some thinking. I don’t know how many times I’ve made that hike. My parents must have done it at least thirty times. When I was in high school, I wrote a fantasy novel (which, mercifully, is buried in a closet somewhere along with its rejection slips). At one point in the story, where the characters travel through the mountains, I drew on my memories of the hike up to Lake Agnes. In particular, I remember trying to describe the rocks I saw every year along the trail. Yesterday, I saw some of those rocks again and they brought back a lot of memories of hikes gone by.
One of the difficulties of being single, I find, is that it’s hard to enjoy the beauty of a walk like this. On this trip, I was able to share the joy of the hike with my parents, and there’s always a certain camaraderie with the other hikers, expressed in greetings and occasional conversation. But it would be hard for me to go hiking on my own.
In order to enter fully into the experience, you need someone else with you, someone else who can point things out to you and to whom you can praise the beauty and with whom you can share the experience and relive it again later. As C. S. Lewis says, “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Maybe one of these days, I’ll be able to take my wife on that hike. (Note to self: Get in better shape before then.)
My parents and I parted in Calgary again, and then we drove back home. My legs were aching from the walk, and the descent in particular took its toll on my knees. During the hours in the car on the way home, my back began to ache and I was desperately tired. It felt as if there was a knot in my spine a few vertebrae down from my shoulders. I was hungry when I got home, but I was almost too tired to eat. I did manage to have a bowl of cereal and then I went to bed. It took me a while to get comfortable, but at last I fell into a deep sleep. I was pretty tired and a bit stiff this morning when I preached, though the back pain at least was gone.
And now, as I look at the clock, I realize that it’s time for the second service. Gotta run (well, hobble anyway). I’m not preaching, but after the service I am interviewing a couple who want to join the church.