Along with almost everything else in my life it seems, I’ve come to a bit of a different view about worship in the past six months. It occurs to me that for the first half of my life I never learned to appreciate the beauty of worship with just a few.
I’ve always thought that as far as worship is concerned, bigger = better. More people, better worship. Bigger organ, better worship. Better organist, better worship. Better trained and better rehearsed servers, better worship. A presiding minister who can sing the Eucharistic liturgy in tune – bonus!
But I’ve learned in a hands-on sort of way recently that there is a distinct beauty in small and simple worship that is hard to describe. It’s personal, it’s deep, and it’s incredibly rich.
Some months ago, my parish added Thursday evening Vespers to their weekly cycle of services. Thursday Vespers is sparsely attended – usually about 6-8 worshippers plus the priest. Sometimes there’s a couple more, sometimes a couple less. When I went to this Vespers service for the first time and saw how few were there, I thought, “Oh, this is gonna be good. There aren’t even enough singers here to sing all four parts – how are we going to do this?”
But we did do it. We worshipped, and it was beautiful – and rich and meaningful. And it was rich and meaningful in a way I’d not experienced before. Not in it’s big-ness and perfection, not in it’s pomp and precision - but in it’s reverence and honesty – in it’s smallness and simplicity. This Vespers service, with just the few of us there, was fully as rich and meaningful as a Saturday night Vespers with 20 or more or a Sunday morning liturgy with a whole church full of people. In fact, it had a specific beauty in it’s simplicity and in its intimacy that the other services don’t have. Yet in it’s smallness, I am filled to overflowing.
How does that happen?
At a recent church potluck, I was trying to explain this thing I’d noticed about the beauty of the smallness of this service to another woman who regularly attends Thursday night Vespers, too. She was not at all surprised. She said, “Isn’t it something how that happens? You know, God doesn’t need our worship – we do.” Wow – wise woman!
Does God benefit from our worship? I’m not sure (she obviously thinks not – and I think she may be right). But I am sure that I benefit from worshipping. And I suspect that I need to worship far more than God needs my worship.
Worship is God’s gift to us, and an incredible gift it is! It is a vehicle by which we are brought into proper relationship to God – and the liturgy (“the work of the people”) is the very work for which we were created. In our worship, God takes whatever we have to offer, blesses it, and returns it to us a gift - one hundred-fold. In the offering of our worship, we receive. How can our doing of this work ever be less than a blessing?
Size really isn’t everything.