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Metaphor and Worship

For centuries the Christian liturgy has taken Biblical texts and used them in the flow of worship. This juxtaposition of ancient text and present activity is, in effect, a metaphor. The images and narrative context of the Biblical text become the Source Domain, the lens through which we understand the activity of Christian worship. Worship is the Target Domain, the actions and expectations of which are shaped by the structured relationships of the implied narrative of the Source. In terms of Christian liturgy, these narratives tend to be more explicit than the narratives implied by most metaphors, but the dynamics are the same.

So, for example, we begin worship with the Invocation, placing God’s Name on God’s people. Where in the biblical story does God’s Name show up in important ways? How do these moments in the biblical narrative map onto our actions in Christian worship?

God gives His Name to Moses at the burning bush: God declares His Name to be Yahweh, I AM. In context, Yahweh is claiming to be the God of Promise, the God Who IS (as opposed to all other gods), and the God who Saves. That same God is present for us in worship, making some of the same claims and promises.

Or go to the dedication of Solomon’s temple. The glory cloud, the smoke of God’s Presence that had led the people of Israel in the wilderness now takes up residence in the temple. Solomon knows the house he built can’t contain or localize God, yet Solomon also knows that God Himself is present. And God says of this temple: “I have put my Name there. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” When God puts His Name on our worship, when God puts His name on us in baptism, God is promising both His eyes and His heart.

Or return to the wilderness wandering where God promises to go with His people and dwell in their midst, even though they are sinful. The words from Numbers 6 are taken over directly into our Christian worship. They are a command from God through Moses to Aaron and his sons. God explicitly tells them how He wants His people to be blessed. “Use these words,” God says, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you and be gracious unto you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” And what comes next is very telling: God says, “In this way you will put My Name on them and I will bless them.”

In the same way, God puts His Name on us, both at the Invocation and at the Benediction. The promise of God’s presence with us in our wandering, the promise of the God who saves, the promise of God’s eyes and heart all map from the Source Domain of the Biblical narrative onto the Target Domain of our lives. Our worship doesn’t merely recall God’s promises of old; it recapitulates the words and actions of the Biblical story that show clearly how God is present to save His people, here and now. The liturgy of the Christian Church points us back to the Story of God’s Saving Action and, even more, catches us up into that same story and makes it our own.

At my congregation, we are in the process of exploring the way our liturgical movements map from the Biblical story onto our present reality. The images and key narrative moments of both worship and the Scriptural narrative have been brought together in liturgical art, 12-foot banners that will hang in our sanctuary during different seasons of the church year. It is a joy to see the connections being made, the mapping taking place, as we talk about why we do what we do in worship and what it means to have a God who is present to save.

I invite you to check out some of the images, sermons, and Bible study overviews at our discipleship blog. God is certainly at work in the hearts and lives of His people!

About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

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