L UKE WRITES TO A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY to encourage a deeper engagement with their faith. He wants them to be confident of the things they have heard and learned. Luke writes for people who have heard the faith and come to believe but want, yearn, and hunger to understand more deeply.
It sounds like Luke writes to us, you and me. People today who want, yearn, hunger for a deeper faith.
Here in nearly the exact middle of Luke’s Gospel, Luke is using this transfiguring event. (“Trans” means “change” and figure means “shape or form.” This is an event when Jesus is changed in appearance.) Luke uses this dramatic event to instruct us in the nature of worship.
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NOW, YOU MIGHT SAY, “Well, Keith, they’re not in church. What do you mean worship?”
This is what I mean. Luke is the only gospel writer that reveals why Jesus is going up the mountain — to pray. Luke is also the only one that records this retreat into the mountains to pray is on the “eighth day after these sayings” rather than the sixth day according to Matthew and Mark.
There’s something significant about the eighth day. Anybody know what that is?
Let’s think about that a little bit. The Genesis account of creation takes how many days? What takes place on the seventh day? God rests. The seventh day or Sabbath becomes the day of rest and worship for the Jewish people. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” One of the 10 commandments. Very good. Let’s keep going.
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THE WOMEN WAITED to visit the tomb when … the Sabbath day was over. The first day of the week. Correct. This day is the eighth day. Very early the Christian tradition began to refer to Sunday, the day of resurrection and worship, as the eighth day.
So, on this eighth day Jesus and three disciples go up the mountain to pray. On this eighth day, on the mountain, Jesus discusses with Moses and Elijah his impending crucifixion. And the voice from heaven is directed not to Jesus as it was at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
The voice from heaven is directed to whom? The disciples … with the injunction, “Listen to him.” This is not a clear pattern of worship but we have a combination of prayer, discussion focused on the cross, and the command to listen … all taking place on the eighth day. The Christian day of worship.
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THEY ARE HAVING CHURCH. It’s so holy, so moving, so inspiring. Peter doesn’t want it to end. Peter wants to stay. Jesus says: We have to go down the mountain.
Which is why what happens next is so important. They retreat to worship — time to listen to the Word, to be immersed in the cross. Gathering as Christians in prayer inevitably leads to a return to the “everyday world.” The eighth day, Sunday, they are on the mountain top spirit-filled. Then, the next day they come down from the mountain.
Monday. The ninth day. They come down to a world of human need. A world of sickness awaits them. A world where the forces of evil are rampant is before them. A world in need is there, at the bottom of the mountain, on the ninth day. A world that drains from the very life refreshed and renewed in worship.
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WORSHIP IS A RETREAT. It is not a retreat from the world but a retreat in order to come back to the world in love, mercy and grace.
Worship is meant to be a moment of reflection, immersion, companionship, and prayer.
We leave the eighth day of worship and enter the ninth day. We hear God’s voice, focus on the nature of grace as we experience it in the cross, meet each other in prayer and song, and leave renewed for lives of meaning and purpose that come through service to neighbor.
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A YOUNG COUPLE EXPLAINED how important church is for them. Whenever one of them can’t make it — if, for instance, one of their children is sick — they do a quick two-minute drill to check in on the week they’d just been through and the week about to come. Then they ask the question, “Who needs worship more?”
That one — spouse/parent who needs it more — goes to worship with the support of the other left behind.
To them, church helps make sense of their lives. For them, worship is that pick-me-up that refuels their lives and connects them with God and our calling and sends us back into the week.
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OUR YOUTH GROUP has a monthly gathering at someone’s home. A casual time of dinner and conversation and prayer and study. They call it “Refuel.” It’s a name they came up with a few years ago. They get it.
They get that we need community, prayer, grace to be equipped to face down the evil spirits loose in the world. They get that we need community, prayer, grace through the cross of Jesus to sustain us in our journey. They get we need worship to equip us for the ninth day as we go from the mountain-worship into the world.