Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Corruption of Experience and Ceremony

The Victorian idea that children were born pure or innocent is false. All persons, save Our Lord, are conceived in sin and even before they commit actual sins bear real, and damnable, guilt for the original sin they commit by way of inheritance. But the idea that experience corrupts and that children are more innocent, or at least less guilty, than adults is true. One occasionally hears Lutherans talk of original sin almost as though it were worse than actual sin, or as though children were monsters full of selfish greed. I suppose they are, to a degree, but they come off as near angels when compared to their parents or even older siblings.

This is why, I suspect, that children so love ritual and ceremony, and why adults are so often embarrassed by it. Adults are embarrassed because they have seen more of the darkness in their hearts. They are more aware of their various hypocrisies. Supposedly, they chafe under ritual and ceremony, even if it is simply the fuss of wrapping paper, because it is impractical. What does wrapping paper add to a gift? Only an adult, jaundiced by experience who has suffered a number of life's disappointments, would ask such a question. The child simply receives it as part of the joy and excitement of gifts. Wrapping paper is fun and underscore the reality that something out-of-the-ordinary is happening, that what is being received is a gift. And contrary to all protests, wrapping paper makes chocolate sweeter, a baseball glove more exciting, or even a bicycle faster.

The same is true of ceremonies in the liturgy. Only a pastor, corrupted by experience and bitter from the Ministry's frustrations, would ask : "What does kneeling add to the Sacrament?" I could make an attempt to explain what it "adds," but I suspect it is as vain as trying to explain to a skeptic why we burn candles on a birthday cake. Let the reader understand, some things we do just because they are fun, like wrapping presents. Yes, kneeling, and such, while not essential, are a form of spiritual "fun" and children are not only unashamed of these things, but they delight in them.

NKJ Luke 18:17 "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."


  1. I think kneeling "adds" humility - which is why our sinful nature resists against it.

    Participation in ceremony is a form of submission - which children more readily understand than proud, accomplished, autonomous adults who have learned to use reason over and against that which they resist by asking such unanswerable questions as to what is "added" by kneeling.

    It's a similar thing to the question of whether it is more fitting to use a golden chalice or a plastic shot glass for our Lord's blood. Often the retort is to answer the question with a different question: "Is there a difference about what is inside?" Of course not, but the container is not without consequence.

    The same people who ask such questions would never spurn a beautiful wedding dress for their daughter in lieu of a pair of jeans and an Old Navy shirt with the argument that it is what's inside that is really important.

    We only use such ridiculous sophistry to mock our Lord.

  2. I agree with your general assessment. So how do we reconcile this with the statement in the confessions that the purpose of ceremonies is to teach the Gospel?

  3. That is what ceremonies add. They teach the Gospel. "Teach" is ambiguous. If you show someone who has never heard of Christ a picture of someone else kneeling to receive the Supper, it teaches him nothing. It certainly doesn't save him. But if you tell him what is happening, who Christ is, what He gives in the Sacrament, then kneeling shows the viewer something of what is believed and being received. Kneeling "teaches" the Gospel by underscoring the Gospel, confessing, the way wrapping paper underscores a gift and the festive spirit of a birthday party.


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