Summary: Rituals and traditions nurture of faith and prepare us for the coming of Jesus so that we can in turn prepare the world for Jesus' coming.
Luke 24:28-35 “Traditions”
During this season of Advent, we continue to focus on how we prepare ourselves, for the coming of Jesus, so that we can prepare the world. We have talked about caring conversations, spiritual disciplines, and service. Today we are going to focus on traditions and rituals.
Whenever I think of traditions, I remember the main character of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye. He was a man struggling with traditions. One of the main songs of that musical was entitled, “Tradition.” Several times, during the play, Tevya would reflect on a specific tradition. He would say that people would ask, “Why do we do this?” and he would have to answer, “I don’t know.” So, I want to make it clear that when we are talking about traditions this morning we are not talking about “going through the motions,” but rather “meaningful repetition.”
A TRADITIONAL JESUS
Tradition played an important part in Jesus’ life. One of the central stories of the gospels is Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples. The Passover was an ancient tradition that spanned twelve centuries. The Passover meal kept fresh, in the minds of God’s people, how God was present and powerful during the Exodus. In the meal, God’s love and grace were celebrated and the faith of Israel was passed on to the children.
Christians do not remember Jesus’ Thursday night meal with his disciples as the Passover. To us it is called the Last Supper. In this meal Jesus connected what he accomplished on the cross with the angel of death passing over the Israelite homes several centuries before. It is a tradition that celebrates God’s sacrificial love, his overwhelming grace, and the gift of new life that we receive because of what Jesus did. We observe this tradition frequently as “Holy Communion,” The Sacrament of the Altar,” and “The Eucharist.”
The story of today’s text takes place on Easter afternoon. Two distraught followers of Jesus are walking to Emmaus. Jesus joins the men in their journey, but they do not recognize him. As they walk they converse, and Jesus shares how the scriptures refer to what has happened. It is not until Jesus sits down to eat with the men, though,—a meal that is amazingly similar to Holy Communion—that they recognize him. The ritual of communion communicated the truth of what had happened. It nurtured faith and passed on the faith, as it has continued to do throughout the centuries.
The Christmas season is a time that is full of rituals and traditions. In this season are special songs, meals with family and friends, unique foods, worship on Christmas Eve, and presents on Christmas morning. These traditions and rituals have the ability to unite us as families, strengthen our bonds as people of God, as pass on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Each of us has unique and specific Christmas memories. I can still remember being a shepherd in the Sunday school play (I never made it to the lead role of Joseph). I remember Christmas Eve worship services, dozens and dozens of cookies that my mother would bake, and a Christmas Eve meal of White Castle hamburgers. I am confident that during this Christmas season you will remember many of your special, family traditions and rituals, at the same time that you are making new ones.
Christmas isn’t the only time for traditions and rituals. Of course, there is Easter. There are also daily rituals such as table grace—a time when we remember that the food before us is a gift from God. Nightly prayers and blessings remind us of God’s presence and care. Family devotions and prayer enable us to see glimpses of God’s love and grace in the struggles, challenges and triumphs of our daily lives. The faith is celebrated and passed on.
Other traditions and rituals accomplish the important task of building our relationships with our family and uniting us as a family. These traditions and rituals might range from sledding trips to Flagstaff to birthday celebrations, and everything in between.
At times our traditions lose their meaning. One of special meals for a family centered around a large beef roast. A husband observed his wife one year preparing the roast for the oven. Before she placed the roast in the pan she split it in two. Being an ignorant but inquisitive husband, the man asked her why she did that. She replied that she cooked a roast that way because her mother cooked a roast that way. Later the woman asked her mother why she split the roast in half before placing it in the pan. The mother replied that was how she had learned to cook a roast from her mother. Together they asked the grandmother. Her reply surprised them. “I don’t know why you split the roast in half,” she said, “I did it because my roasting pan was too small.”