John’s funeral taught me one purpose of formal worship. He had been my teacher, and a friend. His death was untimely and unexpected. I was numb.
His funeral began with the 18th century hymn, Jesus Lives.
Jesus lives! thy terrors now
can no longer, death, appall us;
Jesus lives! by this we know
thou, O grave, canst not enthrall us.
For modern sensibilities, the words of the hymn cause many questions in our struggle to understand mind, consciousness, death and reality. I was well aware of that as we sang, but the Cathedral organ and the voices of hundreds around me, took me to another place. There is no literal meaning in these words, but the hymn remains a favourite for me. It says something about the meaningful nature of life, despite the reality of death.
Later in the funeral, the eucharist was served, and I received bread and wine at the high altar. I had never warmed to the restrained, compleat churchman priest who served me communion that day. Yet in my grief, as I looked up at him, I looked in the face of love. It’s all I can say. Something beyond the both of us moved through him comforted me.
As John’s wife and family carried the coffin from the church, I saw a painful triumph. Death, pain, loss… there was no doubt of any of this. But there was more, and only triumph describes it.
We come to church because the ritual of worship moves beyond our thinking. It ministers to us where the struggle of thinking and reasoning cannot reach. It lets us stand fully aware of our doubts and disbeliefs, and allows the Divine to touch us.
People sometimes talk of the practice of worship. This is a practise that works. The more we participate, the more we open ourselves to the power that moves through it. Good worship is the accumulation of generations of practice. As we practise worship we train our being to become sensitive beyond mere thinking, and beyond the lonely centrality of our self. We become open to More.
This article was written for Scots Church Adelaide's website