Sudden and Intimate
We know and love Jesus in this life, but, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12). According to Blessed John Newman, our definitive meeting with Jesus “will be as sudden as it is intimate.” Our encounter with God will be deeply personal. “He will look on us, while we look on Him.” Our death is an end, but a glorious beginning, too.
We are assured that Christ will return in glory and majesty, but how might we prepare for such an encounter?
Remarkably, Newman does not emphasize living a good, moral life. He says that simply following the natural law, obeying God in such fashion, while important, will not prepare us adequately for appearing before God. “Dwelling in His presence is a very different thing from being merely subjected to a system of moral laws.” No, a special preparation of “thought and affection” is required.
We find this special preparation in the worship of the living God. Worship is the moral and mystical means given to us by Christ himself, whereby we are gradually prepared to see God in his very nature. For to see God is to change our state of being, and so something entirely unique is required. Worship – in Word and Sacrament – is the preparation, since it is an encounter with God’s divine being.
Newman refers us to our human experience of worship to press his point. Christians familiar with worship will no doubt have rapport with Newman’s claim and insight. There are times, he says, when despite not seeing God face to face in worship, we nevertheless sense a special presence of God. The “veil” remains, “but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it.” During times of worship:
“Our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it speaks of Calvary. Or we remember a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled his who, with a touch, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead.”
By accepting the gift of worship bequeathed to us by Christ himself, “He who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged. He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified.”
And so, our worship of God is not just about the here and now, important as that is, but it is also, and very much so, the unique form of preparation for our sudden, intimate and glorious encounter with the living God.
Excerpts from “Worship, A Preparation For Christ’s Coming” in Parochial and Plain Sermons by John Henry Newman.