The Subtle Snare of Rituals

The Subtle Snare of Rituals

Matthew 12:1-7

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”


            Rituals, traditions, and patterns are essential to our life.  They give a sense of stability and cohesion in a chaotic and transitory world.  They connect us to the past by reminding us of people who were and still are important.  They also serve to remind us of what is important to us.  For example, during the Christmas season, we often reenact traditions and rituals that our parents established and we now carry on.  Growing up, we always had waffles and link sausage on Christmas Eve.  It was a simple but special meal because it was the only time we had sausage. In our family, we continue to carry on this tradition.  Every Christmas, we have Belgian waffles with sausage and bacon.  When we celebrate with this meal each year, it reminds us of my parents and family. 

            While rituals and traditions are not only important to our families, they are also crucial in the life of the church.  Traditions also connect us as a church and remind us of people who were a part of our church but have now gone to be with Christ in glory.  Every year, for the past 27 years, our church has gone to Beaver Campground for a weekend of fun and fellowship.  It serves to unite us in our fellowship but also reminds us of people who were a part of our church.  Every year, I am reminded of Casey, who would take a dip each year in the cold waters of the Wind River, and Lenore Liston would use her car as her tent.  These people were and still are essential to our church and family.  The yearly tradition of the camping trip celebrates the fellowship we have and the people upon whose shoulders the church was built.

            However, there is a danger that rituals and traditions can become more important than people.  In our quest to uphold traditions, we can place them above people.  This is what happened with the Jews. The traditions and rituals were not necessarily bad, for they reminded the people of the importance of worshiping God on the Sabbath.  The problem is that they elevated the rituals above the needs of the people.  Instead of the traditions being a reminder, they became a rule upon which they built their self-righteousness.   The patterns became the focus.

            The same danger we also face.  We can become so focused on the church's rituals that they become the rules for righteousness rather than daily obeying God and living to please him.  We go to church every Sunday and thus perform the ritual, but we no longer love and care about the people around us.  We can start to think that we are righteous before God because we perform our duties in the church but fail to show compassion, love, and forgiveness to the people we worship.  We can perform all the rituals at church but not be transformed inwardly in our desire to be like Christ.  As we go to church each week and go to bible studies, we must continually ask ourselves, “Are we performing a ritual or being transformed into the mind and character of Christ?” Traditions and rituals are important, but they should always be secondary to loving God and loving others. 



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