It think it started with weddings. Though I’m not even sure how long ago it began, I know it was well underway by the time that I became a pastor. Whether we recognize them or not, weddings have a set of rituals that surround them, that define them, that cue the participants and the observers to something greater that is going on. It’s not just a family gathering, it’s not just a luncheon or a dinner party. No, it’s a wedding. And yet most of these rituals have either been emptied of their Christian meaning or they simply have nothing to do with the faith we profess. Think about it, going to a wedding for a Christian couple and going to one for those with no confession of faith is almost indistinguishable these days. Same venues, same outward appearances, same music is played.
The promises of Christ crucified, the blessings of our God for holy matrimony, the living embodiment of forgiveness, hope and love pictured in marriage have all been set aside. What had been the core of the ceremony has quietly been pushed to the margin. We still have the white dress, the exchange of the rings, the candles and flowers and saying of vows. And of course, we’ve added to these things a whole flood of other markers that make a wedding a wedding. From the venue to the dance floor, the selfie booth to the open bar, we all know what to expect. Because the center of it has been lost. We’ve filled it with whatever is the latest trend or fad that will make our day special and meaningful, at least to the select friends and family that are gathered on that day.
This same shift, with its same loss of the center, has also slowly crept into funerals as well. Funerals were once the truly sacred space where trends and cute unique twists met their end. They had no place in a Christian funeral. After all, this concerned the last great enemy, This was a time to hear the Word of the Lord regarding death itself. If there was ever a time that the whole ritual would focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this was it. The law with all its accusations already stood before everyone’s eyes as the casket was brought to the front of the church. It was there when we all went to the gave side and committed the remains to the ground, dust to dust. This was a time for the centrality of the Gospel to not only shine bright but to dominate the whole moment.
But today even Christians shy away from funerals with their typical rituals and rites. Instead, they want a celebration of life with creative and new highlights like funny slide shows, selfies and even drones during the committal (yes, that is a thing). Death isn’t treated as an enemy but as simply part of the circle of life. So, when Christ and the promise of the resurrection fall out of the center of the moment, we then fill it with all sorts of cutesy crap that make us feel good, at least for a while. In the end a wedding ends up being just a big party and a funeral turns into a family reunion.
What is fascinating about this is these two rituals of the church is these are on the fringe of the church’s business. If you think about it, both weddings and funerals will have the greatest overlap with the unbelieving world. It is not just Christians who get married and buried, and the Christians who do will invite all their friends and acquaintances, from all sorts of confessions and ideologies. These rites, then, can work as a sort of barometer for what is happening in our culture. The culture’s claim on these rituals shows that while they may reject our Lord, they still long for the religious rites that bind us together. Though they deny our religion, they long for the religious experience especially at these major and transitory moments of life.
In fact, I think that this is part of what we see happening in our day regarding political issues. There is a religious feel to our current woke culture and the backlash to it. There is no longer room for disagreements and nor fruitful tough conversations about the truth. Now it is only a matter of agreeing with the right side and being outraged if someone disagrees. They are heretics worthy only of our rage and condemnation. There is a rapidly developing ritual to reinforce the beliefs of any side and there is no room for fractional adherence. Only true believers will win the day.
There is only one corrective to this, only one thing that will endure through our new age religion. The Good News of Jesus Christ. Let’s cling to Christ alone, find our identity and security in His Word alone, and we too shall endure.