let’s get ritualistic

There is an argument out there claiming that certain practices of the church should be scaled back or replaced, if not avoided all together, for fear that they will become too ritualistic and therefore lose meaning. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this argument is tremendously backwards.

For one thing, whether we realize it or not, all faith communities have certain practices that, over time, become the very thing that they were trying to avoid. If you choose not to partake in communion lest it lose meaning, you will replace it with something else that, over time, becomes ritualistic. Many faith communities avoid traditional liturgies because they can become stale. However, regardless of how you structure your worship gatherings, there is a liturgical element in that it will always more or less have the same feel to it week after week. Therefore, hard as we may try, it’s difficult to ever really escape the idea of ritual.

But what really chafes me about this argument is the idea of the loss of meaning. As I have been thinking about communion recently [specifically in relation to communion as a political and economic statement], I have come to see that there is deep, inherent meaning in that practice that acts as an essential reminder of who Christ is, what he did and said, and who I am meant to be as his disciple. Regardless of whether or not my senses have become so dulled that I can’t bring myself to appreciate the inherent meaning therein, it does not mean that the meaning is not there to be found.

I would argue that a perceived loss of meaning is exactly the reason why we need to continue to be a people of ritual. Day in and day out, as we dive into the practices and disciplines of the faith, we may not ‘feel’ the meaning, but the fact that we continue to do it reminds is that there is, of course, meaning to be uncovered. As I stated before, watered down alternatives will a) fail to measure up to the real thing and b) over time become what we were trying to avoid in the first place. And obviously completely abandoning the practice isn’t much of an option either.

In short, I am coming to see that there is infinite value in being a people of ritual in that it centres us the person of Jesus Christ and the practices of the Kingdom. And when we begin to say that a certain practice or discipline is beginning to lose its meaning, I would say that is a clear indication that we need to persevere and keep diving in, lest we begin to think that it’s more about how we feel and less about the truth found in the person of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom come.

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    • James
    • March 12th, 2008

    Some support for your point from John Wesley, on why we should take communion as often as we have opportunity. He deals specifically with the objection that too much observance dilutes the meaning in §16 and 17.

    Some parts of the Wesleyan tradition choose to ignore this aspect of Wesleyan theology.

    From Sermon 101, “The Duty of Constant Communion.”

    The First reason why it is the duty of every Christian so to do is, because it is a plain command of Christ. (§1)

    A Second reason why every Christian should do this as often as he can, is, because the benefits of doing it are so great to all that do it in obedience to him; viz., the forgiveness of our past sins and the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls. (§2)

    The case is this: God offers you one of the greatest mercies on this side heaven, and commands you to accept it. Why do not you accept this mercy, in obedience to his command? (§7)

    [Another] objection against constant communion is, that it abates our reverence for the sacrament. Suppose it did? What then? Will you thence conclude that you are not to receive it constantly? This does not follow. God commands you, “Do this.” You may do it now, but will not, and, to excuse yourself say, “If I do it so often, it will abate the reverence with which I do it now.” Suppose it did; has God ever told you, that when the obeying his command abates your reverence to it, then you may disobey it? If he has, you are guiltless; if not, what you say is just nothing to the purpose. The law is clear. Either show that the lawgiver makes this exception, or you are guilty before him. (§16)

    Reverence for the sacrament may be of two sorts: Either such as is owing purely to the newness of the thing, such as men naturally have for anything they are not used to; or such as is owing to our faith, or to the love or fear of God. Now, the former of these is not properly a religious reverence, but purely natural. And this sort of reverence for the Lord’s Supper, the constantly receiving of it must lessen. But it will not lessen the true religious reverence, but rather confirm and increase it. (§17)

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