Biblical Worship 6: Anticipating the Eschaton

In this series on biblical foundations for worship I have sought to highlight a few important aspects of worship in the biblical sense in efforts to get all of us thinking about how we might worship and lead others in worship faithfully.
Thanks for coming on this journey with me.

In this final post for the series, it seems fitting to talk about The End.
Start with the Beginning, end with The End. Makes sense to me.

“Anticipating the Eschaton” might be a funny sounding phrase, and perhaps it doesn’t make a lot of sense at first. But let me begin by saying this: in order to be faithful to biblical worship, anticipation (of the eschaton) is vital. Let me explain.

Mirriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “eschaton” as “the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.” It is the same Greek word (meaning “future”) from which we get the word eschatology, or the study of end times (and I mean actual study of the end times, not, say, a fictional best-selling book series speculating the events of the end times).

While I don’t care to debate about tribulation theories or which current world leader could potentially be the antichrist, let’s not throw the banana out with the peel. Eschatology is major important to all Christians, and especially those of us concerned with the value of worship. This is not because it will help us predict current events or help us know how to best “survive,” but because getting to the end is the whole point of the story.

God is telling a story and the story is about himself, his world and his created image-bearers the humans. God’s story has a beginning, a middle and an end. And trust me, the ending is really, really good.

Robert E. Webber, before passing away in 2008, was perhaps the most prolific theologian and author on the subject of Christian worship. Webber wrote in his final book Ancient-Future Worship:

The eschatological nature of worship has to do with the place and time when God’s rule is being done one earth as it is in heaven. Worship remembers the past. Yes. But it always connects the past with the future. God acts in history in order to restore his kingdom. Worship makes this connection between past and present because worship celebrates God’s saving deed in the past that culminate in the future.

What a glorious mystery! Worship is transcendent. That is, worship has the capability to move us outside of the dimensional restraints of time in which we live and carry us back to the past to God’s saving action and into the future to his full redemption. This is why the best description of the central purpose of the church is worship. Worship proclaims the story of the gospel.

When we gather for worship, we are doing far more than singing songs or listening to sermons that will improve our lives. We are participating in actions that transcend time and space, joining us with Christ and Christians across the centuries and anticipating his future reign on the earth where sin and death are forever banished. It is not just message, it is the message. And it’s a message that the lost and broken world is dying to hear.

This is seen perhaps most poignantly in the celebration of communion (some say Eucharist or Lord’s Supper), and the Apostle Paul gives us a clue as to why in 1 Corinthians 11:26

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Action becomes proclamation. When we act out worship (what Robert Webber would call “doing God’s story”), our actions proclaim the mystery of the gospel that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

When you plan your worship, or when you go to worship with your family in your local congregation, I hope that you will think about worship this way. God invites us to have a place in his story, and we remember and proclaim that story over and over again in our worship. This has amazing implications for us: we aren’t the ones writing the script! We just play the part that God has written for us. I pray for you and for me, that God will make us faithful as we sing, preach and do his story in our worship.