This past Sunday’s Gospel lesson from the BCP was from Luke 5, the story of the miraculous catch of fish. When St Peter witnesses the miracle, here is his response to Jesus:
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken
This is the biblical response to meeting the divine. When God the Father spoke on the mount of Transfiguration, St Peter went from, ‘Let’s build tents,’ to falling on his face terrified (Mt 17:6).
At the moment of his throne-room vision, the prophet Isaiah declared:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:5 ESV)
When Ezekiel has his super-intense vision of the divine:
So when I saw it, I fell on my face (Ez 1:28 NKJV)
Moses was told by God that he would not be able to look on God’s face and live, so God hid him in a cleft in a rock and covered him with his hand as God passed by. Moses only saw the divine back. Later, when Moses descended from the mountain, even his own reflected glory was too much, and the people veiled his glowing face.
When St John had mighty things revealed to him by an angel, he, too, fell on his face (Rev. 22:8).
Angels and people who have been close to God are more than we can handle, so far as the Bible shows us. God Himself … well. He’s a different story.
And yet we figure that making the worship of the Most Holy Trinity a combination of rock concert and stand-up comedy routine will help us encounter the Most High God.
The Bible, on the other hand, says:
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! (Ps. 96:9)
And so the tradition feels that incense and icons, Gothic architecture and polyphony, stained glass and the ringing of bells, the prostration of human bodies on the floor, are the way to best encounter the Most High God. God is mystery, and true mystery is not a puzzle to be solved but an immensity to be embraced and entered into.
God, that is, is neither your boyfriend nor your best friend.
Let’s restore some reverence to our worship and devotion.