The Body for the Body

I haven’t been satisfied with how liturgical worship has been defended, and I think its detractors, rather successfully, have been using Colossians 2: 16 to paint it with the same brush Paul used to paint Old Testament ceremonies.

Colossians 2:16-19 is the relevant passage: “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”

Two things. Paul doesn’t write that the “substance” belongs to Christ. He closes that sentence with “but the body [that] of Christ”  This ties in to verse 19 which reads, “and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”

In verse 18 Paul speaks of those literally “deciding against you” who with their humility, worship of angels, visions, and arrogance are not holding fast the Head out of which all the body grows the growth of God according to verse 19.  In verse 17 “body” refers to the Person of Christ. He is what the Old Testament Church ceremonies foreshadowed, and with His arrival they were done away.  Body in verse 19 doesn’t refer to Christ but to the Church.

Here we may say a positive word about ceremonies that deliver the Body of Christ to the Body of Christ. They are not a shadow of the coming reality; they are the reality. Worship that begins with the baptismal formula takes us back to the reality of Baptism where Christ was put on us. Worship that has the Spirit-filled Words of Christ’s absolution imparts that same forgiving Spirit to us. Worship that stands at the Word of the Gospel and bows at the mention of the Son’s incarnation reflect the reality of His presence in our place and time. Worship that centers on the Body and Blood of Christ, that recognizes the reality of His presence by gestures, by reverence, and by song (Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis) delivers the Body of Christ to the Body. Worship that ends by placing the Name of God on the Body of Christ as He directed the Church of the Old Testament to do (Numbers 6) is not mere shadow but a delivery of substance.

Verse 17 says don’t let anyone continue to judge you based on not keeping ceremonies that portray Christ as “about to come,” i.e. acts as if He hasn’t arrived.  Any ceremony that focuses on what you must do to make Christ come acts like Christ, the Body, hasn’t arrived. Any ceremony that makes it seem as if your prayer, praise, or thanks are needed to make Christ come is to be rejected.

It is true; the ancient church’s posture of prayer was elbows out from the hips and hands extended to heaven. The hands were at their highest when praying the Lord’s Prayer. However, what you see today in contemporary worship, the hands fully extended as if straining to pull God out of heaven denies the reality of Christ, the Body being present in Word and Sacraments. The fact that this posture and rhythmic swaying are part and parcel of virtually all secular music concerts and celebrates the arrival of a feeling, not the reality of a person, a body being present, also identifies it as a ceremony to be avoided. Ceremonies that deliver the Body of Christ to His Body are to be praised.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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