Take Comfort in Rituals!

This week a scary thing happened in our home-- just in time for Halloween-- Christy ran out of her coffee.  Let's just say she doesn't drink Sanka or whatever is on clearance at the grocery store.  So I ordered the coffee, which would take a few days to arrive.  The last two mornings I found myself playing the good husband, driving to Starbucks, hoping desperately that the coffee I should have ordered "rush" but mistakenly ordered on free shipping arrive soon.  Thankfully it made it here yesterday.

I am not a coffee person, so I don't get much of the comfort and rush feelings many people get from the stuff.  But Starbucks gets it-- and well.  They've built an empire not on the product itself, but the experience.  So as I drove through to order the grande vanilla latte extra hot, I noticed Starbucks' slogan for their special coffee for Fall-- you know, pumpkin spice, etc.-- "Take comfort in rituals."  And I blinked.  Comfort with coffee, community, relationships... that's part of the Starbucks experience.  But ritual?

Rituals are, in fact, comforting.  We use the word ritual a little too often in place of more appropriate words.  For example, Friday family nights, whatever that may be in your home, is not a ritual.  Watching Cowboys games with the same friends every week is not a ritual.  They're great, familiar things, customs, or practices.  Rituals are different: "the observance of set forms or rites, as in public worship," according to our household dictionary.  When a child is baptized it is a ritual.  Funerals, weddings, regular Sunday worship are all rituals.  They are services/actions/occasions to celebrate together the grace and love of God in Christ. 

Even for those outside of the faith, ritual is still important.  When Christy and I pastored in England many years ago, I officiated at about twenty funerals and as many baptisms-- most of these were for folk who were not a part of the church.  And sometimes they acted as such in worship!  But there was still a sense in the community that having a child baptized is important-- even if everyone knew the parents would not raise the kid in church.  Having a pastor-- even one no one knew-- preside at a funeral, in the church or at the funeral home, was important.  Those services would be packed with people.  Ritual is important.  But Starbucks cannot offer meaningful rituals.

In the early days of the Christian church, every Sunday was dedicated to a particular saint.  Over time there were more than 52 "saints" of the church-- which may surprise some church people!  Ha!  In the fifth century, a decision was made to commemorate the saints of the faith in an annual-- you guessed it-- ritual: All Saints Day, November 1.  Over time the practice changed to include not just recognized saints of the faith, but others who inspired, taught, and led us in the ways of Christ.  Then it expanded further to members of the church and loved ones of members.  When people became too busy to worship on an assigned date-- November 1-- churches began observing All Saints Sunday on the Sunday closest to it.  Which brings us to this week: All Saints Sunday.

The services themselves are rituals-- so they will be as familiar as they are every week.  But some parts will be different.  Our saints will be named during the prayer time, and as they are read a family member, the whole family, or someone from the congregation will place a rose in a vase as a way of honoring this person's memory.  We will pray a litany of comfort and hope.  And a special communion liturgy will reinforce the importance of the day.  Take comfort in rituals. 

Ultimately the message of All Saints Day is for the living-- for us to grow so much in our own faith that someone will one day remember us in such a ritual.  Daniel
7:18: "But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever--forever and ever."  Amen!  Ephesians 1:11-12: "In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory."  Amen!

Today in many churches the word ritual is a loaded word, full of images of formality, emptiness, going through the motions.  And it was more than a little surprising to see Starbucks use it in their advertising!  But ritual is important--we need it-- it offers us comfort and familiarity at times when things feel disjointed.  Join me this Sunday as we once again gather in sacred space for worship.  As we remember and celebrate the lives and continued witness of the saints, and continue to grow in our own faith.   Take comfort in rituals!