As Christians we believe Jesus was, and is, both entirely God and entirely human. This is one of the mysterious realities of our faith — that God put on flesh and walked among us, yet retained his “oneness” with the Father and the Spirit. Through the incarnation Jesus’ life on Earth became the grand intersection of God’s story with our human story.
The story of Jesus’ life is filled with a broad spectrum of sensory images and human emotion. He experienced all of the same things we experience — joy, pain, affection, betrayal. His life speaks volumes about our lives because he entered the same human reality that we all live in. The difference is that with Christ, it was a reality unbroken by sin. Every moment Jesus lived was spent in relationship with the Father (John 10:30), enjoying the goodness of God through all of creation and glorifying God through his actions. Jesus didn’t just worship when he was in the synagogue, or when he was teaching his disciples…his whole life was an act of worship.
Jesus was and is the perfect worship leader — he not only led with teachings, songs and prayers, he led with his entire life, meeting people wherever they were through the common things of life. As members of his body, the church, we are charged to proclaim and embody Christ, sharing our lives the same way he shared his. As I lead worship at my church I try to keep in mind that I need to lead more than songs; I need to lead those around me into the story of God. I ask the question “What would this be like if Jesus were physically here as a participant?”
For example, this last year we threw an outdoor community festival for Palm Sunday, trying to imagine what it would have been like for Jesus to arrive at a “party,” celebrating his kingdom, the same as the people of Jerusalem celebrated his coming so long ago. Our modern interpretation of Palm Sunday didn’t include donkeys or palm branches, but it did include elements that relate to our context: free tacos, bounce houses, carnival games, and live music. Throughout the festival we were able to share with our neighborhood the “already, not yet” kingdom of God. In this way Jesus worked through his body (the church) to bring the story to life.
Another wonderful example of incarnational worship is the Seder dinner. The Seder dinner is a messianic telling of the Passover, complete with a full meal, singing, and dancing. Our church has held a Seder the past few years, but this year was my first opportunity to attend. The most vivid part of the dinner for me was a moment early in meal, when horseradish is served on matzo bread. Traditionally in the Passover meal this is a time to remember the bitterness of the Jewish people in slavery — for the Christian participant it also reminds us that we too were once slaves, slaves to the bitterness of sin. I still remember being surprised by the overwhelming spice of the horseradish as it set my sinuses on fire; my eyes watered and burned and I felt like I was choking. Through my tears I realized that talking about the bitterness of sin is one thing, tasting it is another! I can’t eat horseradish now without thinking about that experience. I can honestly say that God’s story has entered my life through my taste buds.
Jesus came so that the story of sin and brokenness might be redeemed. He invites us into his great story of salvation through his incarnation. The sacrifice of his physical body has made it possible for us to become his body, the church. As we use our whole bodies in worship we enter more fully into the story of Christ. This is the goal of worship.
Paul Gratton is a songwriter and worship leader from Central Oregon. He is also a co-founder of Weiv, an interactive software company, and a doctoral student at George Fox University. You can find Paul’s music at ywmh.org and download some of his free visual worship tools at weiv.co.