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The Reverend Krystal Leedy
November 18, 2018
A Reading from Hebrews:
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Church is boring sometimes. Here we are, Sunday after Sunday, offering some of the same liturgies. Week after week, your pastors stand before you with odd gestures and fancy verbiage used in very few other places. I remember as an elementary and middle school student, struggling to stay awake in church because it is so boring sometimes. From my vantage point, I see some of you shifting in your seat, right after “the word of the Lord, thanks be to God” hunkering down for the odd practice of listening to someone go on and on in this pulpit for over 10 minutes of listening. 10 minutes is way over the average NPR story, which clocks in at about 7 minutes, and studies have been done about our auditory attention span. But, I don’t know much more about those studies because I could only stand to listen to them… for about 7 minutes. Yeah, church is boring sometimes. Every priest in our text. All the priests — day after day going to make sacrifices day after day. Ugh. Ritual is the worst. I’ve seen some churches throw the ritual out the window once things have seemingly lost meaning, which I think is understandable. It’s the habit of some to stop the ritual.
I have a ritualized daughter. I understand this. Each evening, Lorelai eats dinner, she has a bath, she brushes her teeth, she lays down in front of the bathtub in warm towels, she puts on her diaper, she puts on her Band-Aids, she puts on her pajamas, then it’s three stories, a prayer, and sleep sheep (which is just a white noise machine), night fox (which makes stars on the ceiling), and puppy (who sings lullabies). Now I want to come back to Band-Aids. Band-Aids have not always been a part of the nighttime ritual. We had to add Band-Aids in when she had a boo-boo months ago, but the ritual still remains. Nighttime is all about the Band-Aids for Lorelai. Throw the Band-Aids out, and you have just created a nightmare scenario.
John and I were walking through Target, and we passed through the band aid aisle, and he grabbed a box of Wonder Woman Band-Aids (because if you’re going to have a ritual, you may as well give it meaning, and what better meaning should we give our almost three-year-old than to strive to be a superhero).
But John pauses for a moment and makes a declaration, “I’m not supporting this habit anymore.” He puts the band aid box back on the shelf. I swear I saw the lights flicker and the sky break open. And I, of course, said everything a supportive co-parent would say, “Well, you can explain that one to her.”
There is already a ritual around Band-Aids in the cosmos, but it’s not usually a day after day kind of a thing. It’s a ritual for when you are hurt. It’s the covering, the binding up of wounds. It’s the caring for those who are broken. There is already a ritual around that, but the ritual was losing meaning because there was no hurt. Lorelai wasn’t hurt, so there is not meaning for the ritual of binding up wounds. The Band-Aids have lost all meaning. And frankly, the Band-Aids were getting expensive. No longer was the ritual serving our family. We are now banking on the attention span of the almost three-year-old brain, which I assure you is much, much shorter than 7 minutes.
We tossed the ritual because it lost meaning, and I think that’s, well, human. The writer of Hebrews reminds the people that they should not neglect meeting together… reminding them because they are probably neglecting meeting together. It’s what we do, when the ritual loses meaning. It becomes boring. It doesn’t hold the weight it once did. So, we toss it.
But I struggle with the idea of simply tossing these rituals, because they have such deep roots. And, I feel like the text struggles with this a bit too. This is a problematic text because the priest that stands day after day seems to be replaced. You can easily read this text and decide that Jesus was the sacrifice that replaced the ritual sacrifices. That Christ’s blood is the ransom that tossed out the old people of God. That Christ’s blood is somehow the Band-Aid on the wound that could not be fixed by God. That Jesus paid the price. You can believe that. Substitutionary atonement theory has been around for a long time. I used to sing songs about it with lyrics like these: “He paid a debt he did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing brand new song, amazing grace. Christ’s Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.” Thanks, Jesus, for making this transaction with God, who apparently had an unpayable debt with Godself.
And if you’re ready, here’s the troubling part: Thanks, Jesus, for paying the debt that our Jewish brothers and sisters could not pay even though they tried real hard. Friends, I can’t get there. I can’t believe that Jesus did something that Jews were attempting to do for thousands of years and somehow failed at. I can’t believe that two thirds of our Scriptures are a lie. I can’t believe that we can throw out the Old Testament God as one who is vengeful and violent and somehow Jesus came to make it all better.
The priestly rituals were too much sometimes and church is still boring sometimes. We are just continuing the story, still trying to understand how day after day, things can be made new. It’s not like when Jesus came, it made everything novel and it stayed novel forever. We are still a ritualized people, and we still should not neglect meeting together. And we are still trying to figure out how to provoke one another in love and good deeds and how to encourage one another. We got written into God’s great plot through Jesus Christ. It didn’t start with us, and it will not end with only us.
God had Jesus in mind all along, and I don’t know why God came to earth when God did, but it gave new meaning to ritual because God taught us how to make the Table bigger. It changed the ritual, but it did not toss it out. God broke Godself open so that we could be broken open too, even people who are not Jewish. During the Exodus in the wilderness, God was still breaking Godself open. It didn’t take the upper room to make God be vulnerable. God has always been and always will be breaking Godself open for us. In water from a rock, in tablets on the ground, in the tearing apart of the sea, in the ripping open of the heavens, in the temple curtain making way for new people to enter into God’s Kingdom: God has never stopped breaking Godself open. God has never stopped breaking open new meaning. God has never stopped breaking us open.
And yes, our rituals have changed when we joined the fold. The breaking of the bread comes with a ritual around it. It is our sacrifice of praise. And to someone who has been here before, it will seem like it always does: the invitation, the moment where we recite what God has done throughout history, the moment where we fail, the moment where God reminds us in prophetic ways about the truth. Then we sing. And then we remember Jesus who also did a bunch of stuff. And then we sing. And then we remember the Holy Spirit and our common life together, and then we sing. And then we recite the words of institution handed down to us. Then we do the stuff with the breaking and the pouring and we eat bits of a meal. This is a new ritual, but it has very old roots. The people of God have been telling this story and singing since the beginning of time.
And yeah, it’s the same thing Sunday after Sunday. There are words we must say. There are actions we must do. And it is the habit of some to try to toss it out the window, to say that because perhaps the ritual has lost meaning that we should stop doing it that way, that we should, I don’t even know, add fireworks or a laser show or something.
But the truth is church and ritual are really not about novelty // except that they totally are because you are here. You make this ritual what it is. If you lay down on your pew, you are changing the ritual. If you dance down the aisle, you are changing the ritual. If you sing louder than the people around you, you change the ritual. If you close your eyes, you change the ritual. When you are all in, you change the ritual, and when you sit in the back, you change the ritual. Being here, being all in, pouring yourself into this moment when the font is poured changes the ritual.
When we remind you to remember your baptism and be thankful because it is an encouragement to remember the family to which you belong, it reminds you from where you come. That God has been troubling the waters for a long time and it’s not by accident that when Christ’s side was split open that blood and water poured out. God is poured out in each of our Sacraments. God is here and the ritual stands sturdy for those times when we cannot stand. And yeah, sometimes that can seem boring.
But what you bring to this Table changes the ritual. If you bring another table to this one, it will change this place. If you think about your family traditions around Thanksgiving and infuse that with this Table, it will change the ritual. It will make it both old and new. It will make it sacred. If you bring the difficult conversation that you had with a friend over drinks to this Table, it can change the story. If you braid hard stories with the stories of Jesus giving freedom to the captives, it will do something new. If you sing with the choirs of angels when you sing. If you ask God to truly lift up your heart into the realm of the saints, then it may be that place for you.
Two weeks ago, I had a retreat with our college students at John Knox Ranch, and it was all about community building. At the end of the weekend on Sunday morning, we were going to have a worship service, and I wanted them to plan it. Now, for those of you who have been on Sunday evenings recently, you will know that our college students are very reserved and they tend not to say much. So, I never really know what they’re thinking. But I asked them what was important to them in a worship service, and they said: Prayers of intercession (pray for others), music, Scripture, passing of the peace, confession, a dedicated space, and a charge and benediction. No laser show. No fireworks. Just an order and a space. Due to time constraints, we needed a space right outside the dining hall, and we found an old picnic table, with a broken bench. We worshipped around that table. We made it a dedicated space for us. I bring that broken picnic table to our Table today. I bring those college students to our Table today.
Even if it’s broken, the ritual still stands sturdy enough to hold us all because it is rooted deeply in what God is up to.
And in that sturdy ritual, God is going to break open something brand new because no matter how we rip the bread, the body of Christ never breaks in the same way twice. We will have this meal again next month, but it will never ever be the same.
God is doing something new here with some very old practices, breaking open new meaning for us as the people of God and for you as a beloved child of God, engrafted into the community, added on the end of the Table, invited by Christ.
So, let us not neglect meeting together as is the habit of some.
Let’s see what God has in store for us next. Let’s see what Christ is breaking open within us.
In the name of that Christ, Amen.