Every Lord’s day, God’s people assemble for gathered worship in multiple and sundry places. However, regardless of terrestrial location, when engaged in corporate worship, believers are united with God in heaven (Heb. 12:22).
The ancient church fathers voiced the reality of believers’ participation in heavenly worship through the Sursum Corda (“lift up your hearts”). This simple rite includes the summons, “Lift up your hearts,” and the response of faith, “We lift our hearts to the Lord.” The Sursum Corda is a liturgical assertion that God, by His Word and Spirit, lifts the hearts of believers into His heavenly presence.
John Calvin wrote approvingly of this rite, which he modified to a monologue form: “Let us raise our hearts and minds on high, where Jesus Christ is, in the glory of his Father, and from whence we look for him at our redemption.” However, Calvin underscored that we do not gain divine celestial presence by the transformation of the communion elements, nor by bringing down Jesus’ human nature to us.
Calvin observed in his commentary on John that “God comes down to earth that He may raise us to heaven.” Christ identified and dwelled with us that we would share in the blessings He received from His Father. God “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with Him in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). Heidelberg Catechism 49 offers clear and comforting instruction as to the benefits we possess in our ascended Christ: “First, He pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of the Father. Second, we have our own flesh in heaven—a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, His members, to Himself in heaven. Third, He sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee.”
Christian worship is based on believers’ union in and presence with Christ, who is the link between the Father and us, between heaven and earth. In Christ, our Jacob’s ladder, God dwells with us (John 1:14), communes with us (v. 51), and ushers us into His presence. In Christ, whose blood “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:24), our sacrifice of worship is accepted by the Father.
Jesus is the true worshiper whose entire life was an offering of worship to the Father. We draw near to God on the sole basis of Jesus’ perfect offering of Himself. Jesus went before us (6:19–20), constituting all believers into His priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). In worshiping the Father, Jesus identifies Himself with believers (Heb. 2:9–15), for whom He intercedes (7:24–25), whom He draws in worship and leads in singing the Father’s praise (2:11–12), to whom He declares the name of God (Ps. 22:22), and to whom He gives confidence to approach the throne of God (Heb. 4:14–16).