We don’t have much of a place for ritual here in the west, at least not formal ritual. Ritual slaps in the face of modernity. Ritual doesn’t make us think of forward progress, but instead makes us think of being frozen in the past. People who have been influenced by the enlightenment get a bit shaky when they don’t think they are moving forward, because the enlightenment stresses that the only way to measure success is to move forward, and improve the past.
When we think of re-enactment, we think of something cheesy like civil war buffs dressed up in costume pretending to kill each other, or single mothers trying to make ends meet churning butter in Colonial Williamsburg so tourists can feel like they had a taste of “the way things were”.
Why is ritual important? Why is re-enactment, and retelling of narrative, such a vital part of the scriptures? Because ritual tells us something. It doesn’t just recast what has already been so that we rest in it; rather, ritual retells what has been precisely because what has been is incomplete. The retelling of the past is like recapitulating the play up through Act 1, because intermission has gone on so long that people might not remember what happened and fail to make the storyline connections to the rest of the play.
“In the meantime, worship is the witness to this vision. In worship we remember God’s redemptive work in history. We especially remember the story of Israel and how it is a type of the Christ event, pointing to the saving events surrounding the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We also anticipate the future. Worship connects the past with the future, for it is here in worship where God recasts his original vision. However, a worship that casts God’s vision for his world appears to have become lost in many of our churches.”
When the people of God celebrated his mighty acts of redemption, they were always postured two ways. They looked back, to tell the story of where they had been, and looked forward, to tell the story of what God had promised would be. And in the New Testament, we find the fulfillment in Jesus. But even Jesus reminds us that what he brought to us in his incarnation was not the final completion, but simply the inauguration of what was to come. He sent his Holy Spirit to complete the work that he began, so that when he returns again he can present to the father the full and completed work of all that he came to do.
Why do we have such a hard time telling and casting this narrative as we gather to worship each and every Sunday?
I think we have a hard time viewing worship as a re-casting of God’s vision for his world, in part, because so often worship is a casting of a vision of our (the pastor’s) vision for our world, that is, the needs that are empty in our lives that the church full of people is somehow (wrongly) meant to fill. And so, we are wary of presenting to people a comprehensive view of this vision because it might not fill seats quickly, fill coffers fully, or fill our (my) ego comprehensively.
I find myself more often than not praying that Jesus would remind me again and again that this is real, that He knows my need, that only He can fill my need, and that it is His story, not mine.