Worship forms trajectory. If we are a people “in the world, not of the world”; if we are pilgrims and sojourners; if this world is not our home; if we are a people whose perpetual cry is “come, Lord Jesus,” then worship is one of the chief contexts in which we’re reminded of that. To put this in theological terms, worship is supposed to be intensely eschatological. I often mention that worship is one of the chief contexts in which humanity finds its satisfaction for the deepest longings of life, but in this regard, worship is incredibly unsatisfying. In fact, worship should make us “eschatologically itchy”–it should make us long for the Fullness which in worship we only see in part.
One of the great future events recorded in Revelation that serves as a metaphor for the consummation of the ages is the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev 19). Theologian Jean-Jacques von Allmen righly calls worship an opportunity for the church “to try on its bridal garments.”1 What a powerful image! Think of the excited bride, putting on her dress in advance and looking herself over in the mirror. She’s not merely thinking, “What a beautiful dress.” She’s putting the whole picture of the wedding day together in her imagination. She’s imagining walking down the aisle, saying her vows, seeing the one she loves in the finest of dress. She’s imagining the crowd, the excitement in the air, and the singularity of purpose for which everyone has gathered. She’s anticipating the most important day of her life.
Worship is very much the same thing. It is allowing the future to break into the present in our imaginations and in actuality. When we sing, we’re caught up in the endless hallelujah of the the heavenly beings who ceaselessly cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev 4:8). The music of heaven reverberates in our music. The prayers of the saints above reverberate in our prayers below (Rev 5:8). The Word of God preached recapitulates the divine Word, who was in the beginning with God, and was God (John 1:1). And, perhaps most importantly, when we receive the Lord’s Supper, we’re tasting a percentage of a fraction of the Feast which is to come. If we were to draw a Venn diagram, with one circle being “heaven” and the other being “earth,” their overlapping section would read “worship.”
So let’s get down to brass tacks for worship leaders and planners. How is the future evidenced in the worship we plan? Are the songs we sing so focused on “me” and “now” that there is no room for “us” in the “then”? Do the words of our prayers and songs (they’re the same thing, actually) exhibit, somewhere, somehow, a longing for what is to come? Is our preaching shaping our people to be “eschatologically itchy”? The trouble is, the real way we find satisfaction in worship is by being reminded of our identity in Christ in such a way that makes us hunger for its completion. It’s ironic. We are satisfied with the notion not that we are completely satisfied now but that we will be satisfied, and when we rob ourselves of remembering that future satisfaction, worship becomes less satisfying. Being intensely now-focused robs the people of God of the deepest kind of satisfaction that we can have.
Put yet another way, with other theological terms, good worship reaffirms our justification, energizing our sanctification, making us thirst for our glorification. “Gospel-centered worship” is therefore necessarily eschatological.
There are many grids through which we must evaluate the content of our worship services, and the End is certainly one of them. How much eschatology is in our doxology? How much longing is in our liturgy? Does our worship give balance to the fact that we are engaging with a God who not only was and is, but is to come?
There are many practical benefits to eschatologically-oriented worship (meaning to suffering, energizing to mission, strengthening the hope of the saints, etc.), which we’ll maybe tease out in another post. But for now, let’s just sit with the question of how well our worship is doing in pointing us down the road.
Can you think of other ways that worship is, or should be, eschatological?