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The Role of Ritual

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Read Leviticus 23.1-3; 25.3-5, 8-10 and Luke 22.14-20

In this season of Lent, we have been taking a look at the Passion Story, or last days of Jesus’ life. As an overlay to this journey, we have turned to the tradition and ritual of the Passion Play shared with the world by the people of Oberammergau, Germany. In 1633, the Black Plague had consumed the lives of many in Europe. The people of Oberammergau, population 600, had lost 84 persons to this disease. They prayed to God asking that the rest of the village’s people be spared. God answered their prayers and the people vowed to share the story of Christ’s passion with the world. Since 1634, the people have fulfilled the vow their ancestors made to God. This ritual has shaped the individual lives and life of the Oberammergau village.

Rituals are something that help to provide stability and remind us of the dependability of God. We may think of the ritual of creation such as the days of the week, the seasons of the year and the years of our lives. We come to know that God is a God of ritual and in the midst of any chaos in our lives, it is God who brings about order.

Oh how we need to be reminded of that today. Everything we have known about the normalcy of life has changed. The change around us due to the coronavirus is happening at a fast pace. People feel unsettled and that life has become chaotic.

More than ever we need the regularity of our rituals to ground us. Worship, holidays, God’s plan for Sabbath and the year of Jubilee, the 10 year performance of the Passion play all remind us that God can be counted on. There is regularity and routine in the rituals of our lives and of creation.

We lost one of our most important rituals last Sunday when worship was canceled. I don’t know about you, but I felt discombobulated. Worship is important and perhaps more so when the opportunity is taken away from us.

It is the familiarity, the order, the pattern of worship that helps us to explore the mystery of God in our lives. We take a look at the objects of worship – the cross, the candles, the bread and cup, the table, the Bible – all objects that point to our God who is beyond us. The more frequently we worship, the more important the rituals become to remind us that God is with us.

In the Passion Play, the director changes some of the stories that are told every ten years. No two Passion Plays are exactly alike. One story that has always been included is the Last Supper which points to the significance of this ritual. In the bread and cup, Christ offers himself anew to each of us, telling us that he will never leave us. As we are practicing social distancing these days, what if we found ways to practice social reassurance? Even though we’re practicing physical distancing, what if we found ways to cut the emotional distance? I think our being rooted and grounded in the rituals of our faith remind us of the stability of God’s presence in Jesus with us always as well as to offer that to those who are anxious and afraid.

As we ponder the role of ritual,

What rituals make up your life?

Why is ritual important in faith?

How does ritual provide structure in your life?


Eternal God, you have always commanded your people to observe rituals in order to grow in faith and glorify you. As we consider the place and power of ritual in our lives, help us also, by your Spirit, to discern the new ways you connect with and call to us through familiar practices that mark us as disciples of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

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