Monday, February 24, 2014

A Sunday Of Sacred Rituals

Mt. Olive Church of the Brethren
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 
- I Corinthians 10:16-17 (NIV)

Yesterday I felt blessed by observing four sacred church practices, each reminding me of the importance of traditions and rituals in our faith.

Birthing Rituals

The first was at the 9 am service of the Mt. Olive Church of the Brethren in Pineville. I attended there at the invitation of my long time friend Curtis Herring, who told me five persons were to be baptized there that day. Pastor Fred Miller immersed them each in the baptismal pool in the front of the church as good Brethren have always done, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and as a sign of new believers committing themselves to follow Jesus together with fellow members.

O sinners, let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sinners, let's go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the robe and crown?
Good Lord show me the way  

Bonding Rituals

On my way from there to attend an ordination at the Harrisonburg Eastside Church I listened to a part of the worship service at the Park View Mennonite Church being aired on WEMC. A number of people were transferring their membership to that congregation that morning, another ritual of welcome and belonging. Pastor Phil Kniss spoke of the miracle of having diverse, unrelated people united together to form a living incarnation of the loving and living presence of God in the world, a miracle the congregation was preparing to celebrate through a celebration of the Lord's Supper.

And we accept bread at his table,
Broken and shared, a living sign.
Here in this world, dying and living,
We are each other’s bread and wine.
This is the place where we can receive
What we need to increase:
God's justice and God’s peace.
- traditional Dutch Anabaptist hymn 

A Blessing Ritual

Arriving at Eastside, a recent church plant that meets at the Smithland Middle School, I joined some 3-400 mostly younger people, many of them JMU students, singing and celebrating their oneness as believers. Even they, casual and with few of the formalities of traditional worship services, have their own forms of ritual and order.

Yesterday one of their pastors, Matt Swartz, was ordained, a ritual that has its roots in the concept of "ordering", acknowledging that some form of designated leadership is necessary for a stable community. District overseer Roy Hange led that part of the service, emphasizing the need for serving humbly and from the position of a servant of the people. In Hange's ordination blessing he was passing on to a leader of the next generation the responsibility of carrying on the church's best traditions and supporting its continuity.

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—
not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;  
not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;  
not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  
 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, 
that he may lift you up in due time.
- from I Peter 5 (NIV)

Belonging Rituals

Then at 4 pm yesterday our Family of Hope house church congregation met at Susan Campbell's home for our weekly worship and Bible study, with our traditional shared meal at six. We take turns hosting and teaching, and this Sunday Elly Neal led us in an inspiring study of the lectionary texts for the week. This result is always more like a spiritual "carry-in" than having professionally prepared and catered fare, but the result is invariably nurturing and satisfying.

What a great culmination to a day of being blessed by a variety of church traditions and nourishing rituals--including, as always, good food and table fellowship together.

When you come together, each of you has a hymn, 
or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. 
Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
- I Corinthians 14:16 (NIV)

(A house church paraphrase: "When you come together, each of you should also bring a salad, a casserole, a fruit or vegetable dish or a dessert to share!")
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