LENT: Worship And Revelation, by Evelyn Underhill

From Worship

Genuine Christian worship, whatever its special emphasis may be, always requires as its foundation belief in the one Holy and Eternal God, the Being of Beings, the “Maker, Lover, and Keeper” of all life; utterly transcendent to His creation, and yet fully present with and in it, besetting, sustaining, molding – above all loving – all that is made.  Its object is a reality “higher than our highest yet more inward than our most inward part,” uniting within His mysterious nature the cosmic and the personal, the extremes of tenderness and power.  This majestic vision it shares to some extent with other great theistic religions – e.g., Judaism and Islam – and here the devotional expressions of many of its greatest masters of theocentric worship, such as Saint Augustine, do not go beyond the language of the Hebrew Psalter, the Neoplatonic mystics, and the Sufi saints.  But the peculiar note of Christianity is struck when, within this awed yet delighted recognition of the Eternal Godhead, we place as the focus of devotion one single revelation in time and space of His essential character – “the effulgence of his glory and the very image of his substance” – made in the person of Jesus Christ; and complete this by acknowledging the presence and power of His holy personal and eternal Spirit – His absolute will and love – at work within the world of time.  For this means that we discover and adore the supernatural, in its independence and completeness, truly immanent in the natural; proceeding from the deeps of absolute being, yet charged with the self-giving ardor of absolute love.

Christian worship in its wholeness must include or imply such equal, loving, and costly responses to this threefold reality as we find for example in the writings of Saint Paul: awestruck adoration of the self-existent eternal, “the only wise God,” total self-offering to Him in Christ, and an active and grateful recognition of the Holy Spirit of God, in His creative guiding and purifying action upon the church and the soul.  It involves, then, an adoring acknowledgement first of God’s cosmic splendor and otherness, next to His redemptive and transfiguring action revealed in history, and last of His immanent guidance of life.  The full Eucharistic canon, passing from the Sanctus to the commemoration of Christ’s life and passion, and thence to an invocation of the Spirit, gives liturgical expression to this, the norm of Christian worship; and it is this constant association of the Eternal and temporal, the transcendent and incarnate, majesty and generous love, which gives that worship its unique character.

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