Let us go up
Earlier this year I wrote an essay on worship as ascension.
The main idea is that our Lord’s-day corporate gathering is, symbolically, going up together to meet with Jesus in a special way. In one sense, he is with us at all times. But we are in his presence in a special way when we draw near to him in corporate worship.
What is the cash value of this? Three things stand out in my mind:
First, it magnifies the importance of the church gathering. We are gathering to meet with, receive from, and give to our king, and it is both a privilege and a refreshing delight to make this the highest priority of our week. We ourselves become the very house of God, he inhabits us as his house, and we meet him there in a special way. The Psalms, in particular, train us to think this way about corporate worship.
Second, it opens our eyes of faith to the greatness of what we experience in the church gathering. Perhaps you find yourself longing for the physical power and glory of Old Testament worship experiences. Why can’t we experience the same physical manifestation of God’s power and presence today? But the fulfillment is always greater than the type, and Levitical worship and temple worship were only a type of what we experience now. Formerly, only one man could approach God’s earthly throne, only once a year; and believers traveled far to eat fellowship meals in the courtyard of God’s house — but only if they were ceremonially clean. Now we are all priests, all cleansed once and for all. We all approach God’s heavenly throne weekly (in one sense), and we eat and drink regularly with Jesus at his own table inside his house. Understanding details of how our experience builds on the Old Testament types and shadows helps us to see and rejoice in how much better our experience is. This is part of the church’s maturing from guardianship to sonship. As Peter Leithart writes, the “move that the New Testament announces is not from ritual to non-ritual. . . . The movement instead is from rituals and signs of distance and exclusion . . . to signs and rituals of inclusion and incorporation.” Hebrews, in particular, trains us to think this way about corporate worship today.
Third, the weekly rhythm of going up to meet with Jesus and being sent back out into the world trains us instinctively in the Christian pattern of life. God’s forgiveness, grace, justification, acceptance, rest, and the work of the Spirit are the wellspring out of which flow our works and obedience. God has fresh mercy for us every day and every week. We receive his assurance, grace, rest and power, and are commissioned to go out into the world in his strength and power. We go out in his authority, not to earn acceptance, grace or rest, but moving out of the acceptance, grace and rest that we have already received, and with great confidence that God will continually refresh and equip us every day and every week. We receive more life, are sent out to die, and come back for more life so we can do it again and again.
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
— (Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV)