Attitude of heart matters. We thankfully acknowledge that any one of us can worship God anywhere, anytime. In the dirt and chaos of a refugee camp people can gather to worship. Communion can be celebrated with a dry crust of bread and a chipped mug. Such a celebration is more meaningful than the most beautiful worship in a marble sanctuary with stained glass windows, embroidered vestments, and gold chalices, if our hearts are cold. However, choosing to worship God with dirty clothes and whatever we can grab at the last minute because we couldn’t be bothered, is not made meaningful or authentic simply because of its similarities to refugee worship. In fact, rather, it reflects a coldly slack attitude towards a holy and gracious God who is worthy of our utmost reverence and devotion for his loving-kindness towards us.
Context also matters. An orphan may carry a dog-eared and crumpled photo of his parents with him as his most treasured possession, but when he finally finds a home he is quite right to put his special photo into a nice frame and give it pride of place on the mantle-shelf. If he leaves it lying around where it gets coffee stains and ongoing damage we would say he no longer seems to care. When we go to weddings, graduations, or even job interviews, we may dress and behave in a respectful way. It honours the event and the people. There are often well-crafted words, symbolic actions, rituals, and moments of formality to lend important occasions dignity.
How we treat anything is evaluated in context to determine our heart attitude. Therefore, when possible, it is quite appropriate to use beauty, well crafted language, symbols and reverent actions to worship God and celebrate His wondrous acts of grace. As we do so, we always remember that they are simply the “frame” on the picture; they themselves are not the picture. Even the most beautiful frame, if it has no picture, is meaningless. The picture, in that sense, is everything: just as Christ is everything to us. How we choose to worship is the frame on the picture. We – with many others across cultures and centuries – have chosen an “Anglican” frame, without for a moment suggesting that others may not prefer a different one. It is the picture that is of first importance!
While we don’t want to be stuffy or pompous, we come to our worship and the sacraments with reverence as well as joy and exuberance. If we make a mistake, or forget something in good faith, we remain good-natured about it acknowledging that Jesus is the centre. However, these “practices of faith” are a link to the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who have gone before us and who celebrate with us around the world. They laid this path and we honour them, and God, by following it well. In so doing, we constantly remind ourselves that our God is holy and worthy. Our practice expresses our deep gratitude for his abundant grace and creates a sense of connectedness to His people. The “frame” matters, but we know that it is not the essence of who we are in Christ. Nonetheless, in light of the magnitude of what (and who) we celebrate, we refuse to be slapdash. We reject carelessness in the worship of our gracious and wonderful God; with reverent joy and thanksgiving, we strive to give Him our best in every thought, word and deed.