Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ritual, Comfort and Starbucks

The other day I was with my middle child (the one I wrote about here) shopping in Target. I got him to go with me on my errands by promising his after-school snack would come from the snack bar there. They also have a Starbucks in this store and I got a cup of coffee. While we were sitting there enjoying our repast, I spied the sign pictured there to the left.

"Take Comfort in Rituals" it says. How interesting I thought. As a liturgically-minded pastor, I was a little surprised. In the midst of the worship wars, when we talk about worship services, ritual seems to be out. And yet here is Starbucks trying to sell ritual. And there are rituals for coffee. My morning routine is very much a ritual. And it is multi-sensory. It engages my body and my mind. And there are some mornings when I do take great comfort in that ritual. Of course, Starbucks seems to be trying to sell its VIA instant coffee line... evidently you can have instant ritual.

But there are a number of people who would decry ritual as inauthentic to the Christian experience. I get this all the time from some who assume that just because the actions are scripted, and the form almost never changes, that it becomes meaningless. Folks can just go through by rote memory and never think about it at all. I will give them that just because we go through a ritual does not make the ritual effective just by doing it. Nonetheless ritual does bring comfort.

A few months ago, I sat at the bedside of a dying member with his wife. We went through the rite of Commendation of the Dying. After we prayed the rite, the wife said, "Do you know how much comfort that liturgy brings?" For her, I think, the ritual said things that she would not have been able to put into words at that moment. But she could assent to them. She could trust in those words because she trusted in Jesus' promise to be in our midst.

A couple of years ago, a family had been assigned to acolyte our Maundy Thursday service and the mother of the acolytes did not know what to expect. I explained that we would have corporate confession and forgiveness along with personal absolution along with washing of the feet the Eucharist. Being her first service with corporate confession and personal absolution, she was astounded by the power of the absolution. She recounted to me that she FELT forgiven. The power of ritual I think is that Christ acts concretely in its midst. We don't have to guess that we are forgiven. Christ, through the voice and laying on of hands of the pastor, has told us so and touched us through it.

If we trust in Christ and his promises, we can take great comfort in rituals because they bring the gospel to life. In a post-modern age we should not be shunning ritual but embracing them all the more. They are at times mysterious and say more through physical action than we might ever realize. They speak the truth more efficiently than we ever could with words. When we extend our hands in the midst of the Sunday service and bid others "The peace of the Lord be with you," it would take us ten minutes to explain what we are doing. But by engaging in this ritual time and again, we learn deep down that the peace which comes from the Lord Jesus is something that can be extended and given to others.

I hope Starbucks is right. I hope ritual, real ritual, is on the rise. We can engage with our bodies, our minds, our whole beings, the promises of the Lord and in turn trust in him.

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