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Worship as transcendence
Being wholly and fully independent of all of the evil manifestations of the world around us. That’s one definition of transcendence. We really do believe that Jesus gives us the opportunity to overcome and redeem the whole world. In his Final Discourse, in the moment of despair, Jesus encourages disciples. Though death is coming, resurrection follows. Look at the scene and try to picture Jesus really comforting his loved ones:
“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
That overcoming of the world that Jesus encourages us with is the transcendence that we all desire as we go traverse the stormy seas before us. Jesus overcoming the world is an opportunity to fulfill His will on earth as it is in heaven. The Kingdom of God is here and we are forming it as a church. Paul takes it further—he says God was pleased to be among us, to have his fullness dwell in Jesus. God was pleased to, through Jesus, reconcile to himself all things (on earth and heaven) by making peace through his blood, and the cross.
Jesus changes the whole world. He gives us the chance to overcome it with Him, to transcend with Him, not just in the age to come, but in age we are forming now.
We try to achieve such transcendence through all sorts of things. Having sex in new ways, achieving the most powerful orgasms our body will give us. Trying new drugs and new combinations to forget the troubles of the world and feel something new. I’ve been reading essays from Vogue’s food editor in his book It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, a follow up to his first award-winning book, The Man Who Ate Everything. I suppose that’s the thing we want to do: everything. It’s a new food, a new beer, a new TV show, a new car, a new house, a new experience. We often think that transcending this world will come through something in it! And it will, but it comes from someone outside of it too—something beyond it.
The perfect person that embodies this impossible both/and of being fully in this world and present to another one is Jesus Christ.Leonard Sweet says that leading people to worship Jesus is the art of transcendence-releasing—I learned that when we were refreshing our PM Plan last week. In our PM Plan we say, “We unabashedly invite people into an experience that does not originate within themselves but is deeply known. Our PMs are the laboratory in which people can experiment with knowing God and connecting Spirit to spirit within the community where the Spirit dwells.”
Each week we form opportunities for people to get a taste of heaven, that heaven that Jesus formed by overcoming the world and reconciling all things to himself. It’s a beautiful image and it’s something we want to do. How does worship release transcendence?
You overcome your circumstances by knowing your true self. One can’t blame the mountain for the rain. And you are the mountain, not the weather. Martin Laird says overcoming all of the painful distractions of our lives is what true prayer and worship are about; it’s his first door of transcendence. Henri Nouwen calls them monkeys in the branches. We are distracted and overwhelmed by trauma, trial, and difficulty—we can feel attacked both internally and externally. Worship gives us the chance to become more than our circumstances. We enter into the body and know that our true self is being a child of God. We become more than employees, more than a statistic to an advertiser, more than earthly parent or an earthly child, more than a spouse or a roommate—we can take heart in Him and become really who we are.
You overcome yourself by connecting to the community. Worship is filled with a body-to-body, spirit-to-spirit, mind-to-mind, and heart-to-heart connection with God and that is emboldened when we do it together. Singing together is powerful—that’s one of the things that Aaron was telling us on Sunday. Singing brought down Jericho. Singing together gives us a sense of connectedness. It builds the body; it solicit emotions that we all feel. That’s why Sigur Rós and Bon Iver are so great. There’s a reason why live music so powerfully connects people and moves them, especially if they know the same song. If you’ve ever been to a punk rock show in a circle pit you know the feeling. It’s great to be known and connected. That ecstasy that we experience could be the Holy Spirit, and when it is directed toward God, when we are explicitly worshipping him, I really believe it is the Holy Spirit bonding us. That common experience that we form at our public meetings is so noteworthy, it connects to each other. It deepens the community and for us in Circle of Hope, that is one of the main things that keeps us going.
You overcome the world by being one with God. Jesus gives us the chance to be known, to be known in the Body, and to be known by Him. There is truly nothing greater in the whole world. For a moment, perhaps, we can experience that joy in worship at the public meeting. It’s a taste of heaven, truly. The world is an ocean with sea monsters that dwell in it. We can transcend that treacherous sea in worship with God.
He calms that stormy sea and carries us with him on his boat, and pilots us to safety. He teaches us to walk on the water, transcending our circumstances and making a mockery of our enemy’s attacks. He teaches us to build our own boats and saves us from the Flood. He parts the Red Sea and delivers us from captivity. He saves us, when we are disobedient, even and send us along our way. He teaches us to become fishers of people.
As we transcend the seas of the world in favor of communion with God, the seas will not always be calm. But calm seas don’t make good sailors.