Faithful Friday – September 8th

Dear Disciple of Christ,

Do you have any traditions in your family or business? I know you have traditions at church. If you are like most worshipers in my church, you have a traditional place to sit at church. In fact you may be somewhat perturbed that someone (usually a visitor) doesn’t know they are sitting in your seat. We consider it quaint if we visit some early American church where there were family names on “booths” of pews (have you seen them?). But it is not quaint if you are “forced” to find a different seat because someone is in “yours.” 

But there are many other traditions that are part of our lives. Some of us are continually just a little (or a lot for some people) late for gatherings. This seems to be a necessity when invited to someone’s house for a party, right (few people would make the social faux pas of arriving early – unless they want to help with last minute set up with the hosts). Some of us are persistently early for meetings and events (other than the party already mentioned) but who feel that is most appropriate and being late is tantamount to…. Well, it just shouldn’t be done. 

There are traditions that have lost their roots, things we do regularly but don’t know why. In my family, my mother taught us to hold our breath when we passed any cemetery (when my father was driving he traditionally slowed down to a near stop to challenge us).  As an adult I wonder if she and we were playing a game or fulfilling a superstitious practice to make sure you didn’t breathe in any lose spirits wandering around – she had gypsy roots in her past. There are good traditions and bad traditions but the best are those we understand.

So for years I’ve asked church members who were used to the tradition of not eating meat on Fridays just why the church required that? How about you? Was it your tradition? Did you (or do you) know why you were doing that? I’m surprised how few actually knew what that meatless Friday was all about. As a Lutheran, of course, it was not our tradition so, realizing it was for others, that would be the first question we’d want answered; “Why do they do that?” So you don’t have to wander off to Wikipedia, let me share it is to honor the work of Christ on Good Friday (sacrificing His life for us), marking that day with sacrifice even as we mark Sundays as the day of the resurrection. 

So what was the tradition in my church in Brooklyn that had lost its roots? When I got there the church had people filling in responsibilities on Sundays in worship, as all churches do, but they had one specifically odd practice. Only elders could serve as ushers. As I say at my church, “I’ll give you 53 points if you can tell me why that was the tradition.” I’ll give you a hint and lower the point value to 43 points; my congregation was in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS). Any ideas yet? Another hint (for 33 points): it has to do with the responsibilities of the elders during the service. Yes? OK, one last hint; it has to do with the communion part of the liturgy. Give up? 

The ushers would guide people forward for communion, moving from pew to pew and collecting the cards people filled out about their attendance at church. On that card, like a simple attendance card, there was request for name and address and phone (no email addresses in the 70’s). But there was an additional question and that was about whether that worshiper was a member of the LCMS. That was important because if that box was not checked, and they were not a member of the LCMS, they were asked not to commune. That was the case unless they had spoken to the pastor before worship. What was that discussion for? It was a time for the pastor to indicate that only members of the LCMS are able to commune – it was a description of “close communion”. This was often referred to by people as “closed” communion, and that was the effect (it was closed to non-members), but it was kept close for the “family.”

But that little church had long since forgotten the reason for the ushers doing it and they were not “protecting” the altar. They were simply collecting the cards (and, to be honest, they were simply thrown away after worship – though it was a great source for info on visitors – it was not used in any way at all).  Their practice was more open than the “official” practice of the national church (especially in the mid-west or where mid-western pastors were serving in churches on the coasts). I had conversations with the ushers and council about what the official church policy was and what we wanted to have as our practice at our church in Brooklyn. I had even more (and more “heated”) conversations with the pastors in our circuit (who were convinced close communion was important to maintain). But when the congregation understood what that tradition was about, they agreed it would not be theirs. I certainly agreed. It is the LORD’S supper, not ours to limit and keep from other disciples of Christ but His for us to share with others. 

It is an important consideration for each of us as we go through our days, repeating actions sometimes without consideration of the roots and reasons. Why do we cross ourselves (if we do) during the liturgy? Why do we touch the baptismal water upon entering church or at baptisms (if we do)? Why do we hold our hands out in the shape of a cross to receive the meal (if we do)? Why do we shake hands or hug one another at the “sharing of the peace” (if we do and if we don’t why not?)? Why do we have a tradition of sitting in a particular place in church and are we caring for those who regularly sit around us each Sunday (perhaps calling those that are missing or welcoming the stranger who sits in our “area”)? Why are we joining with other disciples weekly in worship (can you list five or six reasons off the top of your head for this really good tradition)? 

I’m not sure why bad practices (traditions) stay with us so doggedly or why good practices are so difficult to continue, but knowing why we do what we do might really help. May we take some time to meditate on God’s will from the Word and may that Word guide our practices and traditions.

Peace in His service,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings For Friday, September 8th

Psalm 119:33-40; Ezekiel 24:15-27; Romans 10:15b-21