Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Reverence is relevance. . .

Typically we presume that to be casual is to be real and to be formal is contrived or artificial.  This has been the charge for a very long time.  Most Christians have bought into this line of reasoning and even those who know better find it hard to respond to the charge or debate the argument.  In fact, those who advocate for reverence seem sometimes to be defensive -- having to defend reverence as the exception rather than the rule.  

All of this, of course, has happened across Christianity very quickly.  Every Protestant congregation had a formal religious tradition -- even if it was not quite liturgical.  Until more recent times, nearly every Christian tradition had a formal and reverent atmosphere in worship.  Now, the tide of Protestantism has shifted and it is exceptional to find a congregation with a more reverent and formal worship service.  If you do find them, they are offered as one choice among the smorgasbord of worship services, worship flavors, and worship styles.

The truth is that reverence is not merely our attitude toward God but reflects God's attitude toward us.  He is the One who dictated the formal liturgical tradition of the Temple.  Jesus Himself knew the formal setting of the synagogue as normative.  St. Paul's admonition that everything must be done decently and in good order is more about reverence and liturgy than about anything else.  God is not a God of chaos but a God of order.  In pleading for this, the apostle constantly places the life of the Christian within the context of reverence and humility.  Do not think more highly of yourself is not simply a plea for internal humility but is itself expressed in the community through liturgical, formal, and reverent worship.

Relevance is never simply the judgment of the moment but over time.  It is the formation of what is new on the tradition passed down and received by the heirs of those who went before.  In nearly everything we do there is this understanding of reverence as the most relevant expression of life.  Whether in sports or civic events, military or government, patriotism or religion, casual is decidedly irreverent and so irrelevant.  We all know this.  Respect is shown first and foremost in deference and love by not insisting upon your own self-satisfying way.  So it is a false choice between relevance and reverence.  Reverence is relevance.  To be relevant is to be reverent.  Anything else is simply arrogance.

This is true of worship but it is also true of marriage, family,  and life.  Reverence for marriage and for the family marriage creates is the most relevant way to make sure your spouse is happy and you are happy.  Reverence for life is the most relevant way to honor the lives of others and to make sure your life will also be honored.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"Typically we presume that to be casual is to be real and to be formal is contrived or artificial. This has been the charge for a very long time."

Part of the casualness (in addition to some parishioners dressing up in the clothes they threw on the floor next to their bed the night before) is the need to bring with them water bottles of various descriptions or else large Starbucks (or other logoed) cups of coffee to stave off the threat of dehydration during the hour or so of worship.

I've also seen parents of toddlers bring to church a bag containing enough toys to stock a toy store. This usually results in the toddler pulling out all of the toys, during the service, to see which one makes the most noise when thrown on the floor or banged on the pew in front of them. Missing from the toy bag is any stuffed animal toy.

Many years ago in church, I saw a small child nearby, who had started to be disruptive, being taken out a side door by his mother. The door closer had not completely done its job when I heard three quick whacks, followed by the start of the sound of the child's reaction, then muffled when the door completely closed. Those more formal days seem to be gone.