A season filled with many family and churchly rituals has just passed. These traditions play an important part in our lives shared with others. We learn that Jesus’ family had its tradition of annually going to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41-42). Such events give shape and meaning to our Christian lives together. We can well imagine the recounting of that trip when Jesus was twelve, maybe with some embellishments by Mary and Joseph.
It is pleasant to hear members speak of their favorite rituals in church. I have heard such things as “My favorite service of the year is the Christmas Eve Candlelight; the Good Friday Tenebrae; the Easter Sunrise in the cemetery; Good Shepherd Sunday; the Reformation Festival; etc.” Also: “I love Lenten Soup Suppers; congregational Christmas Dinners; Easter Breakfast; etc.” To hear why they are viewed as favorite rituals gives insight to our gathering together. Even if the ritual doesn’t resonate with you personally, you get to cherish your support in making it happen for your brothers and sisters. Discovering this kind of shared meaning among us makes our relationships become more rewarding to us and our fellow brothers and sisters.
Married couples at the beginning of establishing their lives together will often find it a helpful exercise to review their personal rituals from their youth and perhaps choose some to be observed in their new home together. Very likely they will develop new traditions uniquely their own. Throughout our married lives, a review of old and putting into practice new rituals will enhance our lives and relationships. We find it helps in many ways: to feel the comfort and trust that comes from relying on regular routines, turning towards each other in trust, building stronger bonds, and inevitably deepening emotional connections.
A pastor arriving in a new parish would do well to learn what its longstanding rituals are and seek to reinforce them. While respecting those local traditions, new ones may be developed over time, expanding the sense of a loving, supportive community. All such rituals and traditions should support the mission of the Church, fulfilling what Christ has commanded us to do by proclaiming His good news of salvation. However, it has happened that churchly traditions have been given undue authority, promising fake blessings beyond what our Lord promises (e.g. the church of Rome’s use of holy water or genuflecting while entering the sanctuary to reverence a piece of consecrated bread left over from a previous observance of the Sacrament of the Altar).
Christian and familial traditions and rituals can be good and wholesome. It may be time to review them to deepen appreciation and possibly enhance or even discontinue them. Perhaps it is time for your congregation to add a semiannual new member welcome event or relieve the few who labor over the traditional holiday lutefisk dinner. (If you still have one, let me know. I will try to attend!) Maybe it is time for your family to start making an annual road trip vacation to create long-lasting memories or drop the occasional “airing of grievances” which began as a time of humorous reflections but has become hurtful.
When you hear of other rituals which may not be appealing to you, refrain from writing them off or ridiculing them. Rather, recognize with joy that there can be a wide variety of customs and practices that bring meaning to Christian congregational and family life.Cherish these opportunities for shared meaning at church and in your homes to God’s glory. He gives you these relationships in which you find His love in Christ in your mutual conversations and consolations as Christians.
Rev. Glenn Obenberger