Ritual and Time Travel

By Paul Koch

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I recently heard a sermon where the pastor spoke about the blessing of unhurried time. You know, those times when all the anxious needs of our life slow for a bit; that time when we can simply be in the moment, soak it all in,  appreciate the present and those we get to share it with.

I was fortunate to know a man, quite well, who emigrated from Ethiopia and went through instruction to become a pastor here in the States. As part of his program, we had to meet together weekly to discuss the practical application of his studies. And while I suppose I was to teach him a thing or two, it turned out that I learned far more from him in our discussions. One lesson that he taught me, over and over again, was the blessing of time. He would often say, as he caught me glancing at my watch, “Pastor Koch, in Ethiopia we didn’t have much but we were rich in time.” He taught me the value of time that is not dictated by forces outside of those in which I was currently engaged.

The reality is, we are busy people and we seem to fear unhurried time. We like to move from one thing to another without any pauses in between. Even our vacation time is typically filled with things to see or do. Yet, I think we all could use more unhurried time. In fact, I think we need it.

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It is because of this need that I have grown fonder of the rituals of the church. Now the ritual does many things; perhaps most importantly, it continues to give tradition a voice today, which is no small thing. As G.K. Chesterton beautifully put it,

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

So the ritual allows the saints, who have gone before us, still speak about what is important here and now.

But the ritual of the church also gives us the opportunity for unhurried time. You may enter into the sanctuary of a church some Sunday morning with a thousand things on your mind: worries about the future, concerns about finances, doubts about relationships, etc. But today, there is a Baptism in church! Today you open your hymnal or service bulletin and follow the Rite of Holy Baptism. As you begin, you just recite the parts marked in bold because that is what you’re supposed to do. But the words and rhythms of the ritual begin to create a space for you where time seems to slow. In fact, time does strange things in the rituals of the church.

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I don’t really know what a wormhole is or how theories of time travel are constructed, but I know that the time line is interrupted when water and Word wash over a child of God. The events of Calvary, the death and resurrection of Christ, the atonement of our sin, along with the promise of life everlasting and the hope of the new heavens and new earth collide in a single moment in time. Past, future and present merge in the sacraments of the church. It is a moment that is not rushed through; the ritual doesn’t allow it to be hurried along.

Last Sunday, my nephew Max was baptized into the death and resurrection of our Lord. All the promises of God’s blessed eternity to come, secured so many years ago by our Lord, were given freely, in that moment.

For that moment, all time stood still. And thanks to the ritual all of us gathered there were able to rest in truly unhurried time.

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