*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Value of ritual

by
29 March 2018

NOTHING deadens interest in a news story so much as those fatal words from an informant: “Oh, this isn’t the first time we’ve done this, you know.” Press officers have been known to dredge up a former event or utterance known only to themselves to put excitable news editors off the scent. Entering the final days of Holy Week yet again can be an anxious time for clergy and congregations alike. The desiccated palm fronds are back on top of the vestry cupboard, the lighter fuel has been found for the Easter fire, the Mini-Eggs have been bought and hidden away from the curate. And yet the great question lingers: will it mean anything this year? The great story of Christ’s redeeming work: what if it fails to spark the imagination into life this time?

It is easy to mistake feeling for meaning. It is possible to recount the momentous tale of the first Easter and remain unmoved. “To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not, you must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy” (T. S. Eliot: Four Quartets). Familiarity can suppress the senses. But familiarity is also a friend. The search for novelty is a modern preoccupation. Custom operates at a deeper level than mere emotion, working on the soul as repeated exercise works on the muscles. C. S. Lewis cited the example of brushing one’s teeth: an automatic, near-thoughtless action that has no moral significance and yet does good. Participating in a ritual act has a value of its own, in that it readies us for participation in the work of redemption when we least expect it. Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame had no opportunity to think when he volunteered to take the place of a woman taken hostage by Radouane Lakdim, the jihadist terrorist who took over a supermarket in Trèbes, southern France, last week. M. Beltrame, an active Roman Catholic, paid with his life for an act, a relative said, that was a “thing he would do without hesitation”. We are often the bemused observers of our own rescue and preservation. Salvation is entirely the work of God, and an important lesson is that Easter does not depend on us. But the Passiontide and Easter rituals play their part in transforming the body of Christ into the body of Christ, so that Christlike behaviour can become second nature.

Approaches to this holy time vary. There are those who enter these days in a spirit of patience, alert to the possibility that a familiar thought or gesture can be imbued with a new meaning. Such people are seldom disappointed. It is possible, though, to take a more active part; for there is one emotion at our command: gratitude. Even if church services themselves keep us too busy, the hours surrounding them afford opportunities for quiet reflection on the merciful love that God has for every individual, demonstrated supremely on the cross.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)