Lorraine Cavanagh responds to How should we address God in public worship? Part one by Jean Mayland in Signs of the Times No. 59 - Oct 2015
from Signs of the Times No. 60 - Jan 2016

It is a pleasure and a privilege to act on Jean Mayland’s invitation by responding to her article in the October issue of ‘Signs’.

She is understandably wary of what she perceives as a liturgical drift towards an exclusive (and excluding) Jesus worship in contemporary liturgy, although it has to be said that the churches most inclined to Jesus worship are, on the whole, non-liturgical in any formal sense.

Liturgical drift, and its incipient dangers, occurs when liturgy becomes divorced from theology. This is as true of theistic (i.e. God focused) prayers as it is of Jesus worship. In both cases we have a theological disjunction; on the one hand with the uncoupling of the persons of the Trinity and on the other with a kind of tacit monism. Both render the divinity of Christ, in the context of liturgy, opaque, ultimately giving rise to the kind of dry and formulaic liturgy (‘revised’ from time to time) which is ‘safe’, because it does not say anything significant about God. Unfortunately, it also fails to connect with many people, irrespective of their age.[1]

 

This suggests that if liturgy is to be Christian worship in the fullest sense, it needs to be rooted in Christian meaning, and here I understand meaning to be that search for relatedness with God which we express through worship. The significance of worship, understood in this way, pertains directly to who and what we understand Jesus to be, and to what our ‘understanding’ consists of in an existential sense.

In this respect, I believe that praying to Christ works better liturgically than praying to Jesus, because a too heavily weighted focus on Jesus leads us into Ebionite language and hymnody which stalls our growth into spiritual maturity.[2] The term ‘son of man’ can be taken to mean ‘ordinary fellow’, although there are other ways of understanding his humanity within this definition. Jesus as ‘the image of God’ derives from the letter to the Colossians and the idea of the second Adam in Romans. Space does not permit much elaboration on this, except to say that Jean is right to point out that all are made in his image. But, as one of the Eucharistic prayers points out ‘we have marred that image and fall short of his glory’. The divinity of Christ, revealed in his life, suffering, death and resurrection, restores us to that glory.

To this end, Jesus, the Christ, is the ‘anointed one’, the one promised by the Father. Part of the salvific significance of Christ’s divinity lies also in the nature of his priesthood which is specific to his person, an important factor for Jews of his time, and a central plank in the argument of the letter to the Hebrews. We could do a great deal more with this priestly concept in some of our hymns and prayers, allowing it to embrace our own priesthood as the people of God.

Christ the anointed, the promised, the Son of God is contained in the idea of the Logos and all which that word tells us about the eternal and God’s ongoing creating work in the abiding Spirit of his Christ. Christ was ‘in the continuous beginning’, to paraphrase the Greek tense used in the beginning of John’s gospel. The Son of Man is also Word made flesh. So the creating Word is life itself manifested in the earthly life of Jesus in his healing and re-creating work of forgiveness, culminating on the cross and fully revealed in his glorified risen body.

Here, the term ‘glorified’ correlates with ‘revealed’. Read together, the two words mean ‘as he truly is’ - fully man and fully God. Throughout his life we see people encountering in Jesus Christ, Word made flesh, Son of God, the one in whom they see and know the Father. They invariably respond by worshipping him.


Notes
[1] The word ‘liturgy’ derives from the Greek ‘leitourgos’ or ‘work of the people’.
[2] Ebionites believed that Jesus was purely human but so gifted by God that his personal charisma warranted the Messianic title.