Every Tuesday several of the pastors here in Bordentown get together for breakfast over at the Town and Country diner. I don’t go as often as I should, I guess, but I make it about as often as I think I need to, and most of the time I enjoy the conversation, which can get quite lively. More often than not that conversation comes around to worship, or perhaps more specifically, how we worship, the order and mechanics of it; we even pass around bulletins from the previous Sunday. The differences in our respective worship services are notable, of course, to the point where a complete outsider might think that a few of us there don’t worship the same God, which in the case of the Unitarian pastor, is actually true. But most of the time I enjoy gathering with other people of faith around a cup of coffee and some hash browns, despite our differences. Discussing worship with a diverse group of people can be fun; Jesus did it all the time.
Jesus seemed to especially enjoy talking worship with people He probably shouldn’t be talking to at all. In the story we just heard from St. John, Jesus was involved in a couple things He probably shouldn’t have been: He was traveling through Samaria, which any good Jew would have avoided like the plague, He was leading other good Jews in doing the same thing, and then, horror of horrors, He spoke to a foreign woman. Photina was her name; she was of questionable reputation, and shouldn’t have been wandering around in the middle of the day by the town well to begin with, and when Jesus spoke to her, she should have taken off back into town. Jesus and Photina talk about water in terms both concrete and spiritual; they talk about all her past husbands and even that dude she was living with; and then, not unlike all other religious people, they get to talking about worship.
Talking worship can be fun, but worship is one of those subjects that fly off the tracks real quick. Worship isn’t even that easy to define. To worship is to render reverent homage to someone or something. The word itself is from the Old English – worthscipe – it’s a derivation of the word worth, and so it carries the connotation of attributing worth to someone greater than the one doing the worship.
Spend five minutes at the Town and Country with the Bordentown pastors and it becomes abundantly clear that the act of worship can look very different from place to place, but basics are always the same and always have been. There’s always the use of sacred texts; there’s probably singing or the recitation of some hymn of praise to God. In the modern Church, the one concept that separates churches from one another is the concept of sacrifice, the idea that giving glory to God is worth more than anything we could have for ourselves, worth even more than our lives. Churches that haven’t strayed off into mere niceness still practice sacrifice in a sense; we sacrifice our time, our skills, our money and resources. We make sacrificial gestures: “In Armenian the word that we translate as “worship” is yergeerbakoutyoun. Repeated often in the Divine Liturgy, the word means literally “kissing the ground.” It says a lot about the Armenian understanding of what we do in church. The Armenian Church, like all the ancient Christian churches, worships not only in words, but also in gestures and rituals that express beyond words what we believe about God and our relationship with him. Words and thoughts alone cannot express all that we believe. The entire body and all the senses are involved. Offering incense, standing, raising our arms, bowing down, kneeling, venerating, moving in processions, elevating symbols of our faith, singing, these are the active ways in which we proclaim our faith.” We sacrifice, we make a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, a sacrifice of energy and subjection of our bodies, and ultimately the sacrifice Christ commanded us to make, the sacrifice of His Body and Blood.
When Photina met Jesus that day by her hometown well, she didn’t have any idea what she was getting herself into. She had been worshipping God with her fellow Samaritans the way Samaritans knew how to worship, and that was good, if incomplete. Photina’s worship hadn’t gotten her too far, she hadn’t learned what it meant to give herself totally to God or what God’s purpose was for her. She had gotten herself caught up in the minutiae and in adultery, and up until that day she didn’t see and perhaps didn’t even want a way out of it. But that day, that day she met Jesus. He told her the truth, the truth about herself and the truth about Himself, and like everyone else that truly meets Jesus, her whole life changed. Photina ran back into town, and told everyone she could find that her whole life, her whole world had changed. She didn’t stop there; she gathered up her family and went to Carthage and Rome preaching the Gospel. After converting the daughter of the Emperor Nero and a hundred of her servants to the Faith, Nero cut off her head, which can now be found at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome.
Photina’s whole life changed that day at the well. She learned what God wanted from her and for her, she learned what sacrifice looks like and what worship looks like, she learned that once you meet Jesus, you can’t help but tell everyone about Him, come what may. You all have met Jesus, perhaps not so dramatically, but you have, and in meeting Jesus your life has changed, perhaps not so dramatically, but it has, so the question becomes, What will you do now?
From “An Introduction to the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church” by Fr. Daniel Findikyan