Sunday, February 4, 2007
A Proper Reverence
In the Old Testament reading for today from Isaiah 6, we witness the reaction of a man who finds himself in the presence of the holy God. He sees the Lord "seated on a throne, high and exalted," his presence filling the Temple. Above Him are the Seraph, each intoning the Sanctus to each other with thunderous reverberations. The doorposts and thresholds shudder. The sanctuary is engulfed with smoke. Isaiah is overwhelmed. He is a ruined man. A sinful man in the presence of a holy God simply cannot be sustained. At least not without the assurance of His gracious forgiveness.
As I listen to Isaiah and watch the angels, I am reminded again of how little proper reverence there is in some corners of the church today. Evangelicals, by nature, believe that casualness is the appropriate approach to "Father God." He has lost the luster of his luminosity, and sits beside us now in friendly familiarity. The suits and ties of far past generations stifle the spirit with dead formalism void of any inspiration. Bowing and genuflecting are holdovers from Catholics left behind in a medieval time warp. The soaring buttresses and gravity-defying arches of ancient cathedrals have been conveniently replaced by more cozy establishments, equipped with theater seats and Starbucks establishments for the coffee hour to follow.
Where is the proper reverence in our time? Are we not humbled by the very angels who feel constrained to cover themselves in His holy presence? And has the spirit of Isaiah and Peter, which cringes in guilt at the realization of this holiness, passed away with all things no longer needed or desired? Has a veil descended and covered our vision - a veil of our own ignorance and indifference?
I pray not. Yet each generation must recapture the sense of being in the presence of holiness again. As the Sanctus is chanted by the faithful, do they look up in wonder at what now lies upon the altar before them? Or does the commonness of the means blind the eye of faith? Do they hear at all the voice of John the Baptist who calls us to "behold the Lamb of God" here in the bread and wine we are about to receive? And does their body feel any need to bow in the humility of a ruined man coming to a gracious God for forgiveness, while he deserves only death?
Or do we file up in neat rows, lines of unmoved automatons, oblivious to the drama, blind to the miracle, numb to our own fallenness?
In our effort to capture the fullness of the immanence of God, have we lost the eminence? Is it too hard for us to accept the paradox, the twin realities of our existence before the Almighty? We are forgiven children of God, who call in familiarity upon Him as dear children call upon a dear father. But that "Father" is also of heaven. To have one without the other is ultimately to lose God as God.
I bow each time I pass the altar. It seems to confound some people. Deep down I know that this bowing is not of absolute necessity. I know that it can easily become mechanical. Yet like crossing myself it is a way for my body to be reminded of the realities unseen. It is easy to forget where I am. So many have. But I am in His Temple, the place of his presence. I am surrounded by "angels and archangels and all the hosts of heaven." And I am a "poor miserable sinner." So I bow and pray for mercy. And as He lifts me up and bids me be not afraid, I look back in wonderment. How could such a holy God be so gracious? It is a mystery I cherish in Christ.