October 2022

Savory, Sensory, Visual Worship

In a sermon, our pastor taught how David, in Psalm 133, illustrates (“oil, dew”) a sensory experience of worship in community. There is imagery (not idolatry) in worship together. Do you know the source of this biblical image? Or what it may illustrate?

A pastor friend once observed that New Testament worship is not as sensory as Old Testament worship: roasting sacrificial lambs at the tabernacle or temple was like experiencing aromas during a visit to a barbecue.

The imagery of communal worship, as visual illustrations, do not promote the veneration of religious images (icons or idols). *

* The Byzantine church had an icon controversy (7h - 8th centuries). Both the Puritans (16th - 17th centuries) and Presbyterians warn that “smells, bells, visuals” can distract or become idolatry. But there’s an appropriate decorum in our communal public worship. Our senses are engaged. Even “low church” Protestants note: in the Lord’s Supper, we “taste and see” that the Lord is good. In both sacraments, God applies to our lives the accomplished redemption of Jesus. There is no more bloodshed, but our experience is savory, sensory, and visual.

In a vision of the future temple, Ezekiel (41:17-20) saw carved images of cherubim and palm trees. Each cherub had a man’s face toward one palm tree, and a young lion’s face toward the next. These alternated around the whole temple.

My musing (not an infallible interpretation): in worship we encounter God’s presence (in the “lion of Judah”) but we must also face our own perilous human condition. But, in Christ, God offers a life-giving oasis. We face God but must also face ourselves.

Malcolm Muggeridge once observed to William F. Buckley Jr.: “Think of the steeple and the gargoyle. The steeple is this beautiful thing reaching up into the sky admitting, as it were, its own inadequacy — attempting something utterly impossible — to climb up to heaven through a steeple. The gargoyle is this little man grinning and laughing at the absurd behavior of men on earth, and these two things both built into this building to the glory of God.”

May we savor worship together as the community of Jesus.

Two Pairs of Trees

I’ve been viewing the Rings of Power and working to understand the characters and lands in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. And I’ve also been pondering my own mortality (not the same as morbidity) as commended by Moses (Psalm 90:10,12) and certainly relevant to a septuagenarian.

So, what are those Two Trees of Valinor? How are they different from the Two Trees of Genesis? Here are some musings.

Tolkien’s Two Trees of Valinor, or Trees of the Valar, or simply the Two Trees are Telperion (Gold Tree) and Laurelin (Silver Tree). Telperion was considered male and Laurelin female. Tolkien was probably inspired by God’s creation of light in Genesis: the Two Trees brought light into into the lands of the Valar and Middle-earth. The Two Trees were destroyed by Melkor, with the help of the giant spider Ungoliant. The Valar transformed the last flower and last fruit of the Trees into the Sun and the Moon.

Melkor was jealous of the light-giving trees, and enlisted Ungoliant to help destroy the Two Trees. Melkor struck each Tree with a spear. The ravenous spider devoured any life and light that remained in the Two Trees. The residue of their true light only remained in the Silmarils.

Tolkien’s Silmarillion tells how the Elves who saw the Two Trees became mighty. As vassals of the Valar, the Trees bestowed otherworldly power and understanding on those exposed to them. For example, Galadriel had a special affinity to Laurelin, the female Tree. Her hair captured its golden light. This inspired Fëanor to make jewels that would hold that light, jewels called Silmarils.

J. R. R. Tolkien (unlike fellow Inkling C. S. Lewis) did not write allegories. So, the Silmarillion’s Two Trees do not correlate with Biblical images. The Genesis images are the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. The first signified the life God gave to created mortals as an antidote to death, and to give mortal humans access to ever-lasting life (not the same as God’s essential, inherent immortality, as Paul notes in 1 Timothy 6:16).

The second Tree, of knowledge, signifies that mortals must live in the fear of the LORD as their true source of wisdom and knowledge (Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7). True wisdom is to revere what God says, and not to seize wisdom for ourselves, centered on ourselves. We must not be deceived into thinking we are “like God, knowing good and evil,” by our own self-definition.

In the New Creation to be fulfilled in Christ, there will no longer be Two Trees, but only the one Tree of Life, growing on both sides of the River of Life, with twelve kinds of fruit, with leaves for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).

On that great Day, our lost “freedom to not sin,” will be transformed by resurrection power into “not able to sin.” Jesus’ followers from all nations will live in the Light of God’s majestic Presence.

From @IntlBuzz