Cancel

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).

Gathered worship is a foretaste of heaven.

One may well ask, Were the benefits realized in new covenant worship also enjoyed in the old covenant? The book of Hebrews sheds light. Both discontinuities and continuities exist between the covenants. The author of Hebrews connects Mount Sinai with the old covenant and Mount Zion with the new covenant. Mount Sinai was a temporary place of worship, approached with fear (Heb. 12:18–21). The old covenant was eventually obsolete (Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:13). The tabernacle and its architecture, furniture, priestly system, and sacrifices were shadows of heavenly things (Heb. 8:5; 9:23–24). Mount Zion represents a better covenant, founded on better, permanent promises, enacted by the more excellent ministry of Christ (8:6). Through faith in Christ, all believers enter the heavenly Jerusalem and share in all His blessings. There is no distinction within the priesthood of believers. No longer are worshipers required to go to a specific place to worship God (John 4:21–24).

Continuities also exist between both covenants. Christ fulfills all Old Testament forms and ceremonies of worship. All are saved in Christ (Gal. 3:26). Old covenant believers were members of the true church, partakers in the cloud of witnesses who also ran the race with Jesus, our Forerunner. In both covenants, God promised His presence with the faithful (Lev. 26:12). In both covenants, God commanded worshipers to approach Him with gratitude and reverence (Heb. 12:21, 28–29). Both covenants issue stern warnings and offer glorious promises. We may not refuse God. We must offer acceptable worship (vv. 25–29).

Our union with and identification in Jesus’ heavenly worship affords us tremendous comfort, encouragement, and instruction. First, our heavenly dwelling with Christ encourages us to “make the goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand” (Heidelberg Catechism 49). We are not of this world but citizens of heaven (Eph. 2:19; Heb. 11:13–16), already raised and seated with Christ (Eph. 2:6). Therefore, let us “set [our] hearts on things above” (Col. 3:2) in gathered worship and in all of life. Both within and outside of gathered worship, we are to present “our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), as “a sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15).

Second, the profundity of heavenly worship motivates us to prioritize our participation in corporate worship, “not neglecting to meet together” (Heb. 10:25). Gathered, corporate worship is imperative for healthy growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Gathered, corporate worship is a necessary means to encourage one another as we “stir up one another to love and good works” (v. 24).

Third, our priestly position in new covenant heavenly worship reminds us that we were redeemed to proclaim God’s praises, both now and forever (1 Peter 2:4–5, 9–10). Gathered worship is a foretaste of heaven. Of worship we may sing, “Beyond my highest joy I prize her heavenly ways, her sweet communion, solemn vows, her hymns of love and praise” (Timothy Dwight).

Becoming What We Behold

Why We Don’t Share the Gospel

Keep Reading Psalm 23

From the August 2018 Issue
Aug 2018 Issue