Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Procession or Parade?

It goes without saying that parents teach their children.  No matter what they do – more to the point, in everything they say and do – parents are teaching their children.  Perhaps then, it is easy for the “old, wise and learned” adults, to take for granted the fact that we also can learn a great deal from children.  Just spend a day with a preschooler or read Dr. Seuss again.  You can learn a lot from a conversation with the youngest among us.  For their youth is, by no means, an evaluation of their sublime intelligence and their unequivocal capability to learn the things we “wise” adults deem “too difficult” to understand.  

As we consider the topic of ritual and ceremony in the church – in particular, the procession at the beginning and end of the Divine Service and the Gospel procession - we do well to keep our children in mind.  Everyone, you see, has ceremonies or rituals – again, just spend a day with a preschooler.  Rituals are a part of our lives from the day we are born to the day we die (and even in heaven), not to mention in and outside of church.  But what does ritual or ceremony in the Christian Church teach our children to believe, teach and confess?  And what can our children teach us about the liturgy?  You can imagine the following conversation - between a parent and a child – at lunch or in the car on the way home.

Chloe:  Mom, dad?
Mom and dad:  Yes, dear?
Chloe:  Can I ask you a question?
Mom:  Of course, you may.
Chloe:  Why did we have all those parades in church today?
Dad (chuckling a little to himself): Well, that’s a good question, Chloe; but those weren’t exactly parades.  We call those processions.
Chloe:  What’s a procession?  It looked like a parade to me.
Mom:  Well, it’s kinda like a parade, but better.
Dad:  Chloe, you remember when we went to the Rose Parade last week?
Chloe: Yea, that was fun, can we go again?
Mom:  We’ll just wait and see.  Do you remember who was at the center of attention in the parade?
Chloe: Princesses and roses and horsies and men with shovels.
Dad:  Now, think about church this morning; who was the center of attention at Church?
Chloe:  Jesus!
Mom:  Are you just saying that because you know it’s almost always the right answer in Sunday School?
Chloe: No…I saw the pastors and the big kids holding candles and a giant book and they were all following the cross with Jesus on it.  Was that a Jesus parade?
Mom:  Well in a way it was, Chloe.  But not all parades are the same.  A parade is very different from a procession in church.  A procession happens during the Divine Service and points us to Jesus on the cross and His love for us.  What was the Rose parade celebrating?
Chloe:  Daddy says it’s all about football.
Mom (laughing to herself):  Yes, that’s part of it.  Parades usually celebrate something we do or someone important who has done something special.  But processions at church point to what Jesus has done for us.  Did you see Jesus on the cross at the Rose Parade?
Chloe:  Hmmm, nope.  Why would Jesus be there?
Dad:  Good question.  Of course Jesus is with us always, just like He promised to His disciples.  Where does Jesus come to us?
Chloe: At church?
Mom:  That’s right; Jesus promised to be there for us, In His Word and the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
Chloe:  So, Jesus comes to us every Sunday?
Mom:  Yes, isn’t that good news? 
Chloe:  Yup! 
Dad:  Say, Chloe, this reminds me of a Bible verse we memorized at Christmass time; let’s see if you remember it.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:14.
Mom:  Do you remember who “the Word” is?
Chloe:  It’s Jesus!!
Dad:  Right again!  Just like Jesus was with His disciples in real life a long time ago, He is with us on Sunday whenever the pastor reads the Bible, when we go to the Lord’s Supper and even on the day you were baptized!
Chloe:  Then, why don’t we have a pro…what did you call it again?
Mom: Procession.
Chloe:  Yea, why don’t we have one of those every Sunday.
Mom: Well, we certainly could, many churches do.  At our church we usually have processions on big church festivals: All Saints’ Day, Christmass, Easter, Reformation – and those are just a few.
Chloe:  Wow, we have a lot to celebrate at church; we should have processions more often.
Dad:  I agree.  What a great way to remind us that Jesus is with us and that His forgiveness won on the cross is the center of attention:  Jesus Crucified for you!
Chloe:  See, I told you Jesus was the right answer!  What’s for lunch?  Are we almost home?

Luther spoke of a similar presence of Christ in the Gospel, saying, “For the preaching of the Gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him.”  Luther’s quotation is brought to life in the midst of the Gospel procession, where the Gospel reading is brought down into the midst of the people.  For here in the Word, as in the Sacraments, the Crucified and Risen Lord who was incarnate of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary is the same Crucified and Risen Lord who is present in, with and under His Church.  Parades are nice, but they are not the Gospel.  Christ Crucified is not the focal point of secular parades.  If a procession is just like any other parade, then there’s no business doing it in the church.  A procession, however, points to Christ, His cross, His salvation and His Word given for us, spoken in the midst of the people.  What a joy!  What a confession:  Christ Crucified and His salvation are present here among us according to His Word and promise.  And any time Christ and His saving Word, life-giving water and forgiveness-bringing body and blood are present, there’s more than enough reason for celebration, thanks and praise. 

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