Psalm 122:1 “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”
What an interesting insight the psalmist gives to worship. He rejoices to go to Yahweh’s house! Is that true today? Perhaps some of us quietly admit that worship is less than thrilling, less than exciting. In fact, it might be a rare occasion when we could admit that we rejoiced about worshiping. An interesting parallel with basketball will help us better understand what happens in liturgy, and why we can join the Psalmist.
For a basketball game people gather ready for the game. They (usually!) stand for the national anthem. So at worship we gather together standing for the opening hymn in worship.
At the basketball game, the players are introduced. So, too, in worship. One side in this game is: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit = God” and the other side is: “I, a poor, miserable sinner = us sinners.” At this point, God stops the game and declares, “You can’t play in My game. I am pure, holy, and righteous. You are sinners, deserving my full punishment.”
Then comes the surprise: God says, “I forgive you all your sins for the sake of My Son, the Star of the game.” With that, we are invited to play in God’s game with God’s rules, with God’s victory already assured!
This is critical in describing worship. Many claim to be “Christ-centered”; we would agree with that. But even more, we say that worship is “Christ-initiated.”
In a basketball game, one team grabs the ball and rushes down the court to score points. Then the other team grabs the ball and goes the other way. In worship, since it is God’s game, He grabs the ball first and rushes down the court to tell us of His love and forgiveness. We rush down the other way, scoring with our praise. We don’t shout “Yeah, God,” but we use appropriate terms such as “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah.”
You keep track of who is active by watching the pastor. When he faces the congregation, God has the ball, speaking to the people. When the pastor faces the altar, the people have the ball speaking to God.
As in a basketball game with four quarters, in worship we have four quarters. When the pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” that marks a quarter break.
First quarter: Invocation, confession/absolution, and praise.
Second quarter: Scripture readings, sermon, and creed.
Third quarter: Lord’s Supper.
Fourth quarter: final prayer and benediction/blessing.
Sin and Forgiveness
In a basketball game, each player can commit five fouls before leaving the game. But in worship, five times we hear the words “your sins are forgiven.” God doesn’t want anyone to foul out of the game! Notice the focus of each:
1) Confession/Absolution (general)
2) Scripture readings (how God achieved forgiveness)
3) Sermon (application)
4) Creed (joining the Church Catholic everywhere at all times)
5) Lord’s Supper (specifically “for you”).
The Star of Worship
When the basketball game is on the line, everyone stands in anticipation of victory. So, too, in worship, when the Gospel is read, we stand, because in effect, God says, “Right here, this is My Star, and this is how He won the game.”
Years ago on Monday night football, Don Meredith had a way of signaling the essential end of the football game. He would sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…” Many people think that the benediction/blessing at the end of the service is the same: “It’s over, finally.” But not so!
Unlike a basketball game in which the thrill of victory fades, in worship God declares that the victory celebrated during worship will continue with us during the week — daily. Therefore, we leave not looking for a let down, but having been built up by playing in God’s game according God’s rules winning with Him. In other words, the benediction declares that what God has done for us continues to be with us.
Guess what? Next week the game is repeated. Basketball fans do not complain that “we have to go to the game next week!” Nor as worshippers do we complain about worshipping next week. What an exciting event! Ultimately we look forward to the greatest day — when we will be with the LORD forever, rejoicing at the final victory won and celebrated permanently in heaven. Therefore, we join the psalmist and say, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the LORD.’ ”
© 1989, 2010 Richard P. Shields