|Easter Sunday 2010, Australia|
At the very end of chapter 4, Smith starts shifting gears a little bit towards where he is heading with chapter 5 – a detailed look at the various liturgical practices that are contained within a worship service – what truths they are meant to embody and how they can be a helpful counter-formation to the ‘secular’ liturgies of our modern culture. Even though I still maintain that ideas, belief, and doctrine must inform our practices (rather than the other way around as Smith claims), I found this section really interesting and helpful to think about. I come from a pretty generic non-denominational, evangelical background that has (unfortunately, in my opinion), shed quite a few of these liturgical practices in an effort to become more ‘relevant’ and ‘applicable’. Smith points out that when we lose some of these traditional practices, we also lose some of the ‘counter-formational’ benefit to worship. Chapter 5 is a long and meaty chapter, and even with it broken up over 5 weeks, I still doubt I will comment on every practice that Smith mentions. I do hope to be able to comment on those that I found most interesting and significant. And I may also take some time to comment on some of the other practices that we have found helpful in our home even if they aren’t mentioned by Smith in this chapter. This week’s section started off with a discussion of the liturgical year.
|Advent Candles in France, 2012|
Smith points out several ways that following the seasons of the church year can be an effective counter-formation to our secular culture:
- Celebrating Advent as a time of waiting, longing, and expectation is clearly a different orientation to the over-commercialization of the Season.
- Celebrating the seasons of the church year reminds us that our Messiah “does not float in some esoteric, ahistorical heaven, but [is one] who made a dent on the calendar – and will again.”
- Celebrating the seasons of the church year counters the idea of ‘presentism’ and living for the moment as it remembers back to the events of Christ in history and points forward to His return and coming kingdom. (We also do this in Communion as we look back and remember what Christ has done and ‘proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes’.) We become people of expectancy – we have the sense that this world isn’t all there is. “Thus we are constituted as a people who live between times, remembering and hoping at the same time.”
|Advent Candles in Cameroon, 2013|
I don’t come from a church tradition that particularly values the seasons of the church year – maybe a nod to Advent, and Easter Sunday is a big deal of course. In my family growing up, we pretty much tacked “Jesus” on to the rest of the hype of the season – sure, Christmas and Easter were about Jesus, but they were also about glitz and food and parties and candy and presents (and as a student heavily involved in the performing arts in high school, an over-the-top performance schedule). We might have gone around with our nifty “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” buttons, but really, was He? Not so much I don’t think – at least this is not the sense that I got as a child. My husband comes from a similar background, and as we started our own family we both had the sense that something was missing. I’d read about some of the meaningful liturgical traditions that some of the Catholic bloggers I like to follow practiced in their homes and began thinking about how we could make some of those ideas work within the context of our belief system. I wanted that sense of beauty and rhythm and Christ-centered traditions in our home too. We began to be intentional about bringing Jesus back as the centerpiece of our Christmas celebrations. Several years later, we realized that Easter really gets glossed over while Christmas gets all the hype. This seemed sort of disproportionate to us – Jesus’ death and resurrection is the focal point of the Christian faith. If we don’t have those, we have nothing, you know? Didn’t it deserve at least as much attention as Christmas did then? So we began to be more intentional about observing the season of Lent as it led up to Easter. That’s still a work in progress. (Actually I had resolved back at the end of 2012 that 2013 would be the year of being more intentional about bringing these kinds of liturgical practices into our home…and then we moved to Africa. J I am just now picking up the pieces.) Both in Advent and in Lent we light candles every evening. We do special family devotionals. This year we’re hoping to extend our Lent meditations through the season of Easter. We go fairly easy on the gifts, decorations, treats, and other activities – we’ve not gotten rid of them altogether, but we’ve tried to ensure that they don’t completely take over life in those seasons either. Over the years, we have come to really love these simple family traditions – and I think that perhaps our children are starting to pick up on them too. It didn’t even faze them that our Christmas packages from grandparents arrived 3 months late this year. That’s not the focal point of the celebration for them. These simple practices have helped keep our hearts focused on Christ rather than all the commercial hype of these holiday seasons and have given us something constant to hold onto in the midst of all of the moves our family has made over the last several years – this is the first time since 2009 we’ve set up our Advent and Lent-Easter candle displays in the same house (let alone same country!) two years in a row! It’s a comforting reminder that the truth of the gospel doesn’t change even when the world all around us does.
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