Worship as an “Echo from the Future”

Zac HicksWorship Theology & ThoughtLeave a Comment

I was recently re-reading through sections of Mike Cosper’s book, Rhythms of Grace (check out my review here), and I came across this brief concept that he had pulled from a lecture by Jeremy Begbie: 

[Worship is] an “echo from the future,” a foretaste of something we’ll see come to fruition when Christ returns and all things are made new, a not-yet life that we taste in part already. Today, we gather in exile, in the world but not of it, but one day the exile will end. God will rebuild creation, and not one corner of it will be stained by sin and rebellion. Until then, we have these momentary and imperfect glimpses and foretastes as we gather, hear the Word, and respond together. As flawed and imperfect as these gatherings are, they’re the most truthful moment of our week, an outpost of the kingdom and a foretaste of eternity.*

Cosper is beautifully but merely distilling what one of my favorite worship theologians, Jean-Jacques von Allmen described when he called worship an “eschatological event,” in his book, Worship: Its Theology and Practice. Eschatology is the study of things to come, and so when we say that worship is “eschatological” or an “echo from the future,” we’re saying that something of the future breaks into the present.  It’s kind of like how we’ve talked in previous posts about corporate worship being “remembering who we really are” and “the most human thing we can do.”  It’s this idea that worship peers into that time when God re-creates the world, when He consummates His redemption of all things in Christ…and, in opening up that future portal (I know, it sounds Trekky), some of the future leaks back into the present.  It’s like how even in the most sophisticated sprinkler systems, there’s always some water dripping back where it shouldn’t go beyond the one way backflow valve.  The difference in the metaphor, though, is that God actually intends for some of that leakage to occur.

When the future leaks into the present in worship, it has a sanctifying effect.  This is because, when we are jolted awake out of the slumber that the present age hypnotizes us into, we see what really will be (a world re-created, and a people reclaimed for worship), and we see who we really were created to be (a perfected people providing unceasing worship to the Triune God through loving Him and one another, forever and ever, amen).  It’s like humankind rediscovering our OEM’s owner’s manual that we had long lost.  In it, we see our design, our engineering, how we were made to work, how we operate, what our ends and purposes are.  When we see the glorified Christ in worship, His light shines ALL THIS TRUTH onto us, and we become a bit more “eschatologically sanctified.”  It actually changes us, slowly but surely.

Worship, planned well, led well, and faithfully executed in the Spirit, has this kind of power, because God has ordained it so. He gives unique sanctifying privileges to our weekly gathering. He does special work there that He chooses to do nowhere else.  Elsewhere, we can read of the future, study the future, and even ponder the future with others. But only in worship can we most acutely experience the future in the present.  And, to get very direct, the pinnacle of that experience occurs in the two-part event of the preaching of the Word and the Lord’s Supper.  

So, the next time you’re leading or participating in worship, open your ears.  Listen for those faint backward echos, where the song of the future reverberates into the present.  It’s a most beautiful song.

*Mike Cosper, How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 100; quoting Jeremy Begbie, plenary lecture, “Re-Timed by God: The Rhythms of Worship,” at the Calvin Symposium on Worship, January 2010.

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