Sometimes, we can be unsure if the way we worship God is good enough or the right way.
A visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, nestled in a corner of Jerusalem and accessed by the narrow streets of the Old City, gave me some insight. This large rambling church is built on a site believed to be where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.
Visitors need to be prepared for swarms of pilgrims from many Christian denominations: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox as well as other groups such as Coptic Christians and Evangelical Christians. And they have to be ready for the centuries of ornamentation and embellishment within this structure.
It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior of the church after the bright sunlight. Mosaics, paintings, and statues covered the celings and walls. Large incense jars hung low above the altars.
This is a place where worshippers run their hands over the smooth surface of a large stone slab, called the Stone of Unction, where it is believed Jesus’ body was anointed with spices before he was placed in the tomb.
Steep stone steps rose sharply in one corner, leading to a chapel. People crowded the room. Many lined up to kneel and kiss the silver disk nailed to the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Under the main dome of the church and enclosed in an ornate chapel stood the tomb where Jesus’ body lay. Many more people waited to enter the tomb; to get on their knees and pay reverence.
These people show us one way to worship God, but it is not the only way.
In another location outside the city walls, we visited the Garden Tomb. Discovered in the last few hundred years, this tomb stands in the more natural setting of a garden, carefully tended and surrounded by high walls. It’s a short distance from a craggy rock face with crevices that resembled eye sockets, although I found them difficult to detect. This is believed to be Golgotha—the place of the skull. Noisy, idling engines and the stench of diesel from a bus station below made it uncomfortable to immerse oneself in the significance of this place.
Instead, this location brought to mind the words of the angel: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Visiting tombs, though, is something we humans do. Life might be over, but we want memories to live on. An unkept grave gives the impression the person is no longer remembered. Visiting the burial site of a loved one brings comfort and a sense of connection. Going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre invokes the same sense of love and remembrance for our Lord. It is a place to worship.
These two sites do remind us of the amazing and defining moment in history when Jesus gave his life so that we might overcome death, even if nothing seemed to resemble what could have been a two-thousand-year-old site of Roman crucifixion.
However, more importantly, we are not to look for a living Lord in religious traditions. It is not our attraction to a particular shrine that is important. Jesus requires us to worship differently.
“We are so privileged to live in the age of the Holy Spirit and to be able to enjoy the freedom that Jesus has brought through the cross and resurrection,” says Nicky Gumbel.
Jesus said: “the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.”
With God’s Spirit dwelling within us, we can worship God freely in every place, all the time. Through Jesus, we can freely speak with God in every situation and at any moment.
It is not the place of worship that is important, but the nature of our worship.
“The kind of people the Father is out looking for” continued Jesus, are “those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship…Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
Use this prayer as you worship God as simply and honestly as you can.