Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tradition is the radical choice. . .

There was a time when to step into a church building was to enter an alien space.  The threshold was a marking point between the world and the world to come, between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God.  It was not simply the architecture that made churches stand out.  It was who they are and what went on within.  The Church clearly understood to be the holy ground on which one stood before the Lord, where the people of God received His gifts and grace, and where the people of God anticipated the promise which was theirs by baptism and faith.

For those entering a church building, it was a strange experience -- something clearly out of the ordinary.  I had a hint of this when a young man came to the door of our church building and asked if he could come in and pray.  When he entered the Sanctuary, he gasped.  He said, "This is a real church!"  He stood and looked around at the stained glass and the dance of their colorful lights upon the floor and furnishings.  He stared at the Christus Rex above the altar.  He was in awe of the painting behind the altar, of the statues around the building, and of the imposing altar, pulpit, and font.  He looked at the processional cross and candles.  He saw the thurible off to the side.  It was some time taking it all in before he bowed his head to pray.

I had not thought much about what I saw -- it had become normal to me.  I had forgotten that the Church is anything but normal to the world and that by architecture and decoration this foreign space was planted in the world but not of it.  Perhaps for too many generations there has been the push to erase the distinction between the sacred and the secular and to build church buildings that looked familiar and ordinary (like the public spaces and shopping malls of the world).  Perhaps the Church has come to blend in instead of standing out.  With this young man I was reminded again that the Church is not meant to blend into the landscape or speak with an indistinct voice.  Just the opposite.  The Church and what happens within her walls is other worldly.

We live in an age in which perhaps the most radical thing the Church can do is to be true to her roots, to honor the tradition passed down through the ages, to speak with the vocabulary and voice of Scripture, and to act with the rites, ritual, and ceremonies through which the means of grace come to us.  Tradition has become the most radical choice and position today.  In fact, the Church needs to become weird again. 

If we are to be the people of God and manifest the marks of His eternal kingdom to a world that knows not us or His kingdom, then who we are and what we do must point to the world to come, to the transcendent God has planted within this world of time and space.  By our reverence and worship we manifest this eternal truth to a world so bound to the moment.  We demonstrate that these things are REAL and eternally so. When we act reverently and bow toward the altar, we point to eternity. When we kneel in confession and at the altar rail, we point to eternity. When we pray with closed hands and bowed heads, we point to eternity. When we worship in the sacred language of Scripture and tradition, we point to eternity. When we dare to remember and confess our sin and death in confidence of God's forgiveness, we point to eternity. When we touch the baptismal water and make the sign of the cross, we point to eternity.  We we sing in unified voice the hymn, chants, and high thanksgivings of the ordinary and pericopes, we point to eternity.  When we wear vestments that mask our individualized choices of clothing and dress, we point to eternity.  When we hear the organ intone the song of the Church and the voices of the choir raised to God, we point to eternity.

This has never been normal but odd, weird, even bizarre behavior before the world.  We need this now more than ever.  We need to be who we are and not who we were before baptism set us apart to be the children of God and faith heard the voice of God calling us to enter into His holy place to receive His holy gifts.  The Church needs to be radical in this way now more than ever.  We have tried making the Church less odd and more normal and it has succeeded only in distracting us from who we are by God's grace and design and what we are here to do.  We have bled off members and strength by making our peace with the world, accommodating the world's ideas and desires, and compromising the doctrine of Scripture and the historic witness of the saints.  No more.  Let us be bold enough to stand out and courageous enough to be weird.  Now more than ever the Church lacks not because God has failed us but because we have failed Him.  Let us be renewed in our desire to believe and confess what reason and science finds quaint or ridiculous.  Let us commit ourselves to live and confess the mystery of God manifest in His Word and Sacraments without fear.  The time has come for us to be unapologetically God's in a world where this is the most radical thing we can be.

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