Ritual and Meaning

April 17, 2003

[The bread and the cup]Evangelical Christianity is remarkably devoid of rituals, but my children seem to crave them. For Advent a couple of years ago, we began lighting Advent candles. I searched the web for their meaning, but found a variety of meanings, so in the end, I made up my own: 1 candle reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world, and that he told us we were the light of the world. 2 candles reminds us of God and humanity, and how Jesus came to bridge the separation between the two. 3 candles reminds us of the Trinity, how God is a family, and wants to add children to that family. 4 candles reminds us of the four corners of the earth, that God sends us with his message to all peoples of all countries.

The kids responded really well to this. (Perhaps all that pomo touchy-feely, multi-sensory stuff is really kid stuff.) Well, what should we do for Easter? We have no Easter traditions, unless you count Easter egg hunts, which as Jor points out, is meaningless (unless we give it meaning). Holy Week kind of snuck up on us. So last night, I brought back something we haven’t done in far, far too long: read the Bible over supper. I read about Jesus entering Jerusalem, then being anointed in Bethany, and we had fun with it. I read it with expression, the way I read other stories to the kids. I (gasp) added to the text, interjecting what I imagined, to make the story more real. And we asked questions together. It was wonderful.

Then my son Trevor wanted to peek at what we would read tonight. I explained that it would be Holy Thursday, so we would read about Jesus sharing communion and giving it new meaning. Trevor, you must understand, is a 10-year-old boy and the least spiritually inclined of the family. He got all excited and said, “Then let’s have communion tomorrow!” And so we shall. And now I am going offline to do just that.
Peace to all on this Holy Thursday.

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

5 responses to Ritual and Meaning

  1. I know I am responding to this several days after the fact. But I still wanted to b/c it’s a cool entry. First off, I’ve been thinking about what you said about how evangelical Christianity has been empoverished for lack of symbolism. So true!! We evangelicals have really lost touch with the power of symbols and the importance of the feasts of the church!! Second, I love your interpretation of the advent candles. I’m going to have to remember that! I grew up in a Pres. church that did light advent candles….but they never explained it and I never thought to ask what it meant. That’s powerful! We should never underestimate the power of symbols!! An old mentor of mine always said that, in planning worship experiences we should in volve as many senses as possible.
    Btw, I think you’ve hit on something there with the “touchy feely” Postmod (I’ve stopped using the abbreviation pomo after a friend of mine said that it sounds like “porno”) experiences. If it does appeal to children best….that says ALOT. What did Jesus say? To be part of the Kingdom of God you must be like little children? Bingo. 😀

  2. Try hiding an empty egg that reminds us of an empty tomb.

  3. Warren Gene Campbell December 24, 2003 at 9:12 am

    I grew up a Baptist and for 22 years pastored evangelical and baptist churches. after 11 years out of the ministry I got involved with the Presbyterians. I am pastor of a church half way between Joplin and Sppringfield, MO. I love ritual and liturgy. (was Episcopalian for 3 years) We use the advent candle and the ‘standard meaning but do make some modifications each season. Example: some times Pink is first, then in its traditional 3rd position. Tonight at our Christmas Eve service I will light the total advent wreath and explain it since we have a large group visiting who have no knowledge of advent wreaths. WGC

  4. I happened across this entry and decided to use part of it to help shape my weekly e-vo (e-mail devotion) I send out. I was just struck by the first few lines of this.
    If you want to see the e-vo, you can find it at http://www.bethlehemaberdeen.org/yf. If you wish, I would be happy to e-mail you a copy as it is only posted on the site for about a week.
    I serve in Aberdeen, SD as one of the pastors of a rather large Lutheran church. Isn’t interesting that many of our folks strive for a deeper, personal, intimate relationship with Jesus while many in less liturgical circles are drawn toward the rituals that are perhaps more formal and more timeless.
    My prayer is that we can continue to learn from one another and support one another much like the body of Christ is supposed to do. Peace.

  5. Warren, I had no idea that the pink is traditionally in the 3rd position. I still have no idea what it is for! (But we have one, it came with the set.)
    Karl, I am honored to have you use my remarks as the basis for your email devotion. Yes, we have much to learn from each other. Isn’t that great?
    Thanks for visiting, both of you. I invite you to join in more recent conversations.