By The Right Revd Michael Perham
Nehemiah and Paul both turn to worship. Nehemiah does so with a holy day, a week of festival, a solemn reading of the law to the assembly and a long prayer of national penitence. For Paul it is more a matter of trying to ensure that all the elements that make up worship – speaking in tongues, interpreting, prophecying, hymns, readings, revelations – come together to create something worthy of God and edifying for the worshippers. The overall aim is that “all things should be done decently and in order”.
You might at first think that both writers are concerned only with ensuring that everything goes smoothly, that worship is beautifully performed. But it isn’t so. Nehemiah wants the people to listen so intently to the reading of the law that their hearts are touched. Indeed this happens. They are moved emotionally by what they hear to grief and weeping. Paul wants the worshippers to be able to say “God is really among us.” The outward form is there in order to shape the spirituality of the people, so that they may be genuinely in touch with God and receptive to him. They need to bring to the worship the deep feelings of the heart that the psalmist expressed in today’s psalm.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
How do you bring the deep longings of your heart into the Church’s worship, an undercurrent of spirituality that ensures the service is not just about the words and rituals on the surface?
The reading of the law in a solemn assembly in the public square moved the people of Nehemiah’s day. How can the Christian scriptures be effectively proclaimed outside the church today?
Holy Beloved God, open my heart and make our worship Spirit-filled, transforming of our lives and beautiful for you. Amen.
The Right Revd Michael Perham is Bishop of Gloucester in England.