Rites, Ritual and Religion

Mark 2: 18                 Amplified

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting [as a ritual]; and they came and asked Jesus, “Why are John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fasting, but Your disciples are not doing so?”

Yesterday we looked at the Sacraments. We saw how the observance of them can vary between denominations. I wish to reiterate that there need not be war over the proper number of sacraments or how they are observed. In contrast with the Old Testament, there is very little specified in the New Testament about feasts, rites or rituals. Largely, churches and denominations have developed ritualistic patterns which meet the needs of their congregation. Further, there is enough diversity among the Christian churches that every person ought to be able to find a system of worship which meets their individual need. What is important is that we practice a true faith.

Some of the less formal and less ritualistic churches bemoan the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial services but I have discovered that we all have created a system of rituals. Even in the least formal of churches you may find some patterns emerging. That is okay. It is acceptable to develop practice patterns with which we are comfortable as long as we do not begin to serve them instead of the Lord Jesus.   

This is the main point. In the Old Testament there was great emphasis on the feasts and other forms of ritualistic worship and how they were to be conducted. The celebration of the Jewish faith had, to a greater degree, a corporate expression. In the Christian faith, so much of what calls us to higher ground happens within us. If we then choose to express that with pot luck dinners or high mass we may. We must, however, keep our focus on that spiritual reality which is happening within us as Thomas á Kempis suggested. The sacrament, feast or song is not the worship. It is the gift we give God from our hearts which matters, and truly, that is all that matters in the end. You won’t go to hell for not practicing the sacraments but you can practice all of the sacraments and never connect with Jesus in your heart. This is the important concept and we really must embrace it. 

May I be so bold as to say that it is not communion which is holy? It is the honor, dedication, servitude and, most importantly, the love which you give to the Father that matters. Some people find that practicing the sacraments, especially communion, helps them to connect with that part of their heart which loves God. To my way of thinking, the sacraments are about giving, at least as much as they are about receiving. This is a subtly but an important point and one which makes a great deal of difference to our Father. As we take communion are we doing so in order to receive from the Father? Perhaps we hope to receive the grace Kempis wrote about. Or, do we eat the bread and drink the cup in order to remember what Jesus did for us? Perhaps we should not say “receive” communion because it is supposed to be an offering of remembrance and thanksgiving. “When He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 11: 24). It is almost like raising your glass in a toast to the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. He has already given us everything. He has already done for us everything. Now we honor him in recalling all that he has done and all that he is.

Tomorrow I wish to share with you two final thoughts as you consider the role of the sacraments and other rituals in the Christian faith. Let your heart be at peace. We will see what Jesus teaches so that we can know that we are building our houses on the rock. Be blessed.