The Body at Worship

Orans1Recently we had a discussion in our “Worship Matters” Learning Group about what our bodies do in worship. It might seem that, compared to some churches, not much is physically happening in the context of our Lutheran assemblies. But look again:

  • We stand to sing praise and hear the words of the gospel.
  • We sit to receive God’s message during the sermon.
  • We are free to kneel at the altar rail for prayer after communion. The entire assembly kneels to receive communion on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday.
  • We make the sign of the cross on our bodies by touching our forehead to chest, then shoulder to shoulder. We make the sign of the cross on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday during the imposition of ashes. We can dip our fingers in the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads every Sunday as a reminder of our baptismal identity as children of God.
  • If we loosely define the term dancing, (as a toe tap or slight sway) I can see dancing every Sunday at Faith! Especially from our children during particularly energetic songs.
  • We clap our hands to express praise and joy.
  • We lift our hands in adoration and surrender. An outstretched arm with open palm is a sign of openness and receptivity to God in our lives.
  • Orans2You will also observe the assisting and presiding ministers use the orans posture during prayer. Orans is the Latin word for prayer and has been depicted by ancient art of the church. Usually those leading prayer on behalf of the assembly use this posture, especially during the prayer of the day, the prayers of intercession, and the thanksgiving at the table during communion.

One thing I often say is that any posture during worship is an outward symbol of an inward reality. In other words, if I physically kneel in worship, it is because my heart and will are utterly bowed in humility and surrender to God. If I dance in worship, it is because my heart and soul are filled with joy and praise to God. The physical posture is a reflection of my heart’s posture.

Orans3“Human response comes through the use of the body in worship. A principle at work in body language is that external order organizes internal experience. We can do nothing without our bodies. We greet people in our bodies, we go to work in our bodies, we express leisure in our bodies. The spirit within always tells the body what to do. In similar manner, we come to worship in our bodies, and the spirit within tells the body to be at worship. Consequently, when we stand, sit, kneel, raise our hands, or bow down, the body is at worship. Posture and movement in worship allows the whole person to be engaged in worship.” (Robert Webber, Planning Blended Worship, 1998, p. 46)