Abiding in the presence of Christ is our call this week. How do we abide and how do we encourage abiding behavior in the worshiping congregation? And perhaps most important, what does abide mean? We need to consider some sort of teaching by example in this service. Let’s spend some time abiding in Christ. You can probably think of many ways where we can cultivate the ability or the tendency and desire to abide in Christ. But let’s consider three to start with.
Silence is a good practice. It’s true, we have mentioned that before in previous weeks. Silence shouldn’t be an occasional and unusual event in our worship practice; it should become a habit. Silence is a space where God takes control, where we surrender ourselves to the working of the Spirit and the voice of God. So, carve out some time for silence.
An important key is the lead into the time of quiet. You don’t just stop and say, “Be quiet.” That would lead to discomfort within a congregation unused to silence. Take a few moments to talk about the why and to give some guidance on how to enter into this time. Invite the worshipers to sit as comfortably as possible, to breathe deeply, and to say a simple prayer. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” is a good one. And then let the mind drift.
Some might find this distracting and a waste of time. Some might revel in the moment and be reluctant to return to other parts of the service. But make it a dedicated moment within the worship experience on a regular basis. We can learn to be silent; we can learn to abide, but it takes practice.
Second, though it might sound opposite, music can be a way to abide in Christ. Opposite because we are filling ourselves up with sound instead of silence. But this is a directed sound, a sound that leads us into deeper communion with Christ and one another. The music may be instrument, or there may be singing. It is also important to not simply get through the music, but to dwell in it, to let it wash over, to let people lose themselves in the sounds and the words.
Here again, some instruction would be helpful. Invite the congregation to read the words before singing the, or to listen to and follow the melody or the rhythms of the music. Ask them to set themselves aside and just lean into the moment and be alive to what might happen inside of them in this moment.
The first two are instances of surrendering, of setting self aside and entering into the moment. This third one is different. It is a heightening of focus. It is attention to the Word. As the reading of the scripture is introduced, let there be instruction that all tune in and listen deeply. In hearing these words read, people are listening as if to the very words of Jesus. Read them with intensity and passion, not necessarily loudly or with a lot of exaggerated emphasis or movement. But read them as if these were important words that people need to hear, instructions on how to live fully and deeply in a complicated and sometimes threatening world. Let these not be words that people have heard a hundred times and barely pay attention to, but the words of life they need today. Encourage them to lean into the reading of the scriptures.
The continuation of that, of course, is that when people read scripture at home they read it with the same passion and intensity. Like with some singing, we often think our goal is simply to get through it. Let’s spend some time on the Word. Maybe repeat some phrases for emphasis. Pause often so that words can ring in our ears for a moment before moving on to the next thought.
We are practicing this abiding in Christ as we worship together with the hope that it will continue after the benediction is pronounced and the postlude ends. Cultivating habits for lifelong worship is a part of what we do when we gather for worship – however we gather these days.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.