Church Explainer: Rituals

Hello, friends, and welcome back. I’m the Rev. Sare Liz Anuszkiewicz and this is the Sunday Sermon. If you’re looking for the bits of the bible I’ve referenced in this sermon, you can find the link right here. For the nerds in the know, this is Advent 3, Year C, and here’s the sermon I preached on Sunday, December 11, 2022. 

Here is the audio only recording, and below is the full text.

Good morning! The countdown has begun! We’re only fourteen days until Christmas, and in my household we have an advent calendar that sits right next to our advent wreath on the dining room table, and each morning my husband and I open the next little box in the advent calendar. This year’s calendar features tea. So we make a small pot of tea together and share it over breakfast. If we light the advent wreath, we’ll also sing the first verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and if you know my husband, you know the singing is more… hearty than in tune. But the point of rituals isn’t that they be picture perfect, the sort of thing that could be featured in some glossy guide, a how-to on a blog, or in a breath-takingly beautiful coffee table book with pictures so perfect you could weep for the artistry. The point of rituals is to use the human love of ingrained habits in order to remember something that is important to remember.

And that works outside of church. Rituals are useful everywhere, for everyone. The most recent one I noticed in my own life was in a new set of health videos my husband and I are working through. In it, the instructor uses the same words and phrases in every video to begin and end every series of movements. At first I thought it was just repetitive, and you know, it is. But the point of rituals is to repeat over and over and over until it’s easily memorized and not easily forgotten. And it wasn’t long before I realized that the repetitive nature of how this instructor always has us get into position and always has us get out of position was a ritual that did its job perfectly. Because even when I don’t use the videos, I can hear her voice reminding me of how to breathe, and how to coordinate my movements with my breath, how to safely enter the movement, how to safely exit the movement. And being safe while doing unfamiliar physical things, this is very, very helpful.

And the ritual my husband and I have with the advent wreath and the tea… it isn’t about physical safety. But lighting the candles of our advent wreath – much smaller than the ones over there in the church’s advent wreath – reminds us that God’s light is already in the world, in you and in me, and as simple and beautiful as that idea is, it’s awfully easy to forget it when life gets crazy and unexpected things happen. And our little advent calendar full of tea bags provides us another opportunity to offer care and kindness to each other.

The rituals we have here at church are like that: they remind us that God’s light is already in the world, in you and in me. They remind us through the readings and the prayers that we and God share a single hope for peace, for joy, for love to abound in our own lives, and in the world around us. Communion reminds us that God has opened up a new way for more people to know God’s love, and that it is something God does often.

And coffee hour, which I hold to be a very important part of our Sunday worship, reminds us that God is not stuck in an ancient holy book. God is not stuck in liturgy that dates back to the fifth century. God is not stuck in a Bach cantata. God is not stuck in a holy building or even a consecrated altar. God is not even stuck in the bread and the wine. God is with us, between us, and in us, and we can see it in each other… at coffee hour.

So as we are in this season of Advent and we hear a lot about the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Christ, remember what all of our other rituals say:

God is already here. Closer than breathing. Beckoning you to listen, to take the next step, and to be calm and happy while you do it, knowing that you have everything you need, all the resources, all lined up, to do anything God has asked you to do. It’s true for you, and it’s true for me.

Think about this, as you enjoy your Advent rituals, and soon your Christmas rituals. If you have a moment, think about what they tell you is true about yourself, the people around you, and God.


One comment

  1. This made sense in a way that religion does not often do for me. I appreciate this piece and will return to read it again.

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