Updated: Nov 8, 2020
“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24
All this social distancing is getting old. I was walking through the grocery store the other day, and for about the tenth time, this voice from nowhere and everywhere politely reminded everyone to stay six feet apart and not to touch one another. Instead, shoppers were encouraged to smile at one another in greeting. I looked up at a mask-covered young woman coming toward me in the aisle, eyeing her distance from me as she approached. As I moved to give her space to pass, I pointed at my mask, and told her, “I’m smiling here. Just so you know. This is me smiling at everyone.” She was so surprised, she stopped and stood there a moment, then burst out laughing. Her eyes got teary, and she blurted out, “This is just awful! That was funny! Everything’s so crazy!” She laughed and cried for a moment, then hurried off as if she’d broken a law and feared getting caught. I had this urge to draw her into a hug and reassure her that it’s going to be okay, and we are still human beings connected to one another. I didn’t do it, but I wished I could have.
Like the young woman, angst and discontent creep into our lives. Even worship is hard these days. Worship is not meant to be watched like a spectator sport. We sense it in our souls and in the increasing frustration and anxiety as the lockdown stretches on without a clear end in sight. When will our churches open, and when can we worship together again as the church? I’m reminded of the psalmist’s words, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion… How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137: 1, 4) Feels a bit like a foreign land these days…
In Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, part of their discussion was about the correct place to worship, whether on Gerazim, the mountain on which they stood in Samaria, or in Jerusalem, where the Jews worshiped in the Temple. The debate between the Jews and Samaritans was about the correct location in which to encounter God, and that is something we can understand right now. We want to go to that location where we worship and meet God.
Jesus’ answer is revealing. The hour had come to worship God in Spirit and in truth. I don’t think His word choice was accidental. Devout Jews and Samaritans (and one can legitimately wonder about how seriously devout the Samaritan woman at the well was) knew they were to worship from the depths of their hearts and with the whole of their minds. Jesus wasn’t saying telling her something she already knew. He was telling her – and us – something entirely different. Jesus was saying access to God is given to those who worship in the Holy Spirit and in the Word Who is the Truth.
This is profoundly different from human sincerity of belief. Jesus was teaching the woman something new, something we need to remember. We have access to God through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit and by abiding in His Word, that is, in the Son of God – the Word made flesh. This is the essence of worship, this communion and fellowship with the Holy Trinity. The location of our worship of God is in God, a life-giving spiritual reality experienced in the middle of our physical world.
One of my favorite moments of the week occurs when my Sunday evening class closes. The first class meeting we had online was poignant. It was just so good to see one another’s face, even through a computer screen. Since then, we’ve returned to a practice from an earlier class: closing by saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison. Though we are each in our own home, joined as faces in boxes on the screen, my soul is renewed and rejoices every time we pray together. I chose the picture above because that is how I experience our prayers – souls enlivened and imbued with the Spirit of God approaching the crucified King in His heavenly realm.
God created us not to be at ease alone. We are designed to live in community. While we cannot be together physically, we can be together in the Holy Spirit and in the truth that is the Word of God. This physical plane is not the measure of all that is, and we are not designed to thrive with chaotic fear and in relentless loneliness. But we can worship together, and worship alleviates both fear and loneliness. The presence of our God pushes back the chaos of our world.
I’m a preacher. I believe we need to go to church, and I believe we need to worship as Christ’s Body, as our Father’s children. But we are not separated or isolated in Spirit and in Truth. Nestled in the arms of our Risen Lord, filled by God’s own Holy Spirit, we are one with our God and one with each other. This is a mystery that defies easy explanation, but even in mystery, it is more real than any passing moment of this life on this side of the Kingdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Prepare your heart and mind for worship. Purify yourself in humility, so you may be filled with the Spirit. Abide in the love of the Son, so His joy can be yours. When we are in the presence of God, when we enter into communion with the Holy Trinity, the worries and stresses of the world recede. They don’t go away, but they lose power before God Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, in Whom we live and move and have being.
Like the woman I encountered in the store, I want you to know it’s going to be okay, and we are still human beings connected to one another. Whether separated in isolation or gathered in our church buildings, we have access to God in the Spirit through the Truth that is Jesus Christ. He is the Way to our Father, Who gathers us to Himself and holds us safely in His heart.
Praying you are drawn into God’s presence this week, that you may worship with the host of Heaven and the communion of saints – those we can see and those we cannot.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau – © 2020