Sunday, July 09, 2023

Of Posture & Worship

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 144 (145):1-2, 8-11, 13b-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Picture: By Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you have a favourite posture for worship? For example, when we gather here every Sunday, we stand or sit, bow or kneel or genuflect. On special occasions like Good Friday, or when coming before the Blessed Sacrament, some of us even prostrate ourselves. And we know that adopting a suitable posture can help us to pray better. But if asked to pick just one favourite posture for prayer, what would it be?

The reason I ask is not because I think any one position is better than the others, but because our Mass texts suggest that, whether or not we have a favourite posture for communicating with God, God seems to have one for relating with us. Did you notice what it is? It’s stated most clearly at the end of the psalm, where we’re told that the Lord supports all who fall and raises all who are bowed down. God seems to delight in humbly stooping down from on high, so as to tenderly raise up all who are oppressed in any way. This is the posture that God adopts repeatedly in our scriptures today.

In the first reading, God does this by promising to send a victorious yet humble king to raise up a people bowed down by the horrors of war. Yet, as terrible as it is, war is not the only form of oppression. In the gospel, when Jesus promises rest to those who labour and are overburdened, he’s likely referring first to those bowed down, not by war or Roman rule, but by the egoistic religion imposed by their leaders. Not just bad politics, but bad religion can oppress too.

Nor does oppression need to come from outside of us. Isn’t it true that it’s often far more difficult to recognise and escape the kind of oppression that works within us? Those voices we have somehow internalised, insistently telling us we need to look a certain way, or attain a certain status, or mix with a certain crowd… if we are to have any worth at all. And yet, precisely because they often go unnoticed, aren’t these insidious inner voices no less effective for keeping us busily bowed down, unable to find proper rest? … Not just bad politics and religion, even poor psychology can oppress too.

And shouldn’t we include these destructive inner impulses among the unspiritual interests that St Paul talks about in the second reading? Indeed, isn’t this how we distinguish between unspiritual interests and spiritual ones? Pursuing the first bows us down. Focusing on the second raises us up. For when we heed Jesus’ gentle call to come to him, the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead raises us up as well, granting us lasting rest and peace, ushering us into the fullness of life. A life dedicated not to the feeding of fragile egos, but to the uplifting of others who may be bowed down.

All of which helps deepen our understanding of the close connection between posture and worship. Not only does the position of our bodies affect our worship, what or whom we worship affects the posture of our lives. Bad worship bows us down. True worship raises us up. Sisters and brothers, in Christ, God has stooped down to raise us up. What must we do to keep worshipping nothing and no one but God alone?

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