Many of you know that I was a teacher before seminary. When I lived in Lincoln, NE, I did some substitute teaching after graduation and a Roman Catholic school, Blessed Sacrament, liked me so well that I taught there nearly everyday for a year, doing both long term (several weeks in a row) and short term substitute positions. Before this I had limited experiences with the Catholic Church. I had attended one wedding when I was 10 and my college roommate is a devout Catholic but I had never attended mass with her.
Blessed Sacrament students and staff attended mass each day at 3 p.m. Now, I had been a part of a fairly pious Lutheran congregation in ND, but nothing prepared me for the level of ritual and piety that is the Roman Catholic Church. I was completely fascinated with the Rosary, the differences in the Lord’s Prayer, communion practices and liturgy (which I was not able to be a part of) and the candle lighting with the saints particularly was interesting to me. It seems that the Catholic Church has a ritual for everything and for everything a ritual. I watched as many of the older children and adults participated in these rituals, praying, singing, standing and kneeling as seamlessly as breathing. Young mothers with babies crawling all over them could recite the Rosary and keep track of their toddlers without missing a beat. It was all very ordinary and common to them, as well as giving them a laser-like focus on what was important in their lives. Honestly, I was a little jealous of all of this. Going to mass each day was like stepping through a spiritual portal where, while I was an outsider, I was being swept in and enfolded by their singing and speaking words of praise and confession that proclaimed Jesus presence as the central pivot in their lives. Mass allowed me to experience the ordinary rituals of my Lutheran tradition in new and extraordinary ways that revealed Jesus as central in my life.
Now, I am a (good?)Lutheran girl and I know why Martin Luther critiqued some of these rituals and why they can be actually in the way of a meaningful and authentic relationship with God. But in attending mass at Blessed Sacrament and witnessing what was for this congregation, ordinary and common practices that oriented them to God, I glimpsed something that made me think differently about God in my life, differently about my own spiritual practices and differently about what God was doing in the world. I was also made aware of all of the things that I did day to day that were “rituals” but not necessarily ones that connected me to God and the love of Jesus Christ. What part of my day made me stop and look for the love of Christ around me? Where did my ordinary life intersect with the mystery of God? What practices did I have that revealed God to other people?
Mary and Joseph didn’t think that they were doing anything extraordinary by going to the temple with two pigeons for Mary’s purification after childbirth. This would have been as natural and rote for them as the Rosary is for Catholics and saying “The Lord be with you. And also with you” is for Lutherans. Nothing to see here but two sleep deprived parents of a five week old baby. But they went to the temple for the purification ritual, just as they had taken their baby boy for circumcision when he was eight days old. They were following all of the rituals of their tradition as they had themselves witnessed since birth, brought up in homes where God was the focus of their lives. Mary and Joseph assumed that this trip to the temple would be quick and then they could go home and maybe catch a nap before baby Jesus got cranky.
But in the ordinariness of this ritual, something extraordinary happened. An old man Simeon, arrived at the temple as he did each day but knew that this day was different, this baby was unlike any other baby presented to the priest. This baby revealed God’s salvation, light and glory to all people. Mary and Joseph had to have been shaken from their complacency of the ritual by his words and his blessing. It’s not every day a complete stranger sings God’s praises while holding your child, blessing him and proclaiming your son’s role in God’s activity in the world. And for Simeon it was not every day that his life intersected the revelation of God’s promise for creation.
And if Mary and Joseph were not already struck by the difference of this day, Anna, a prophet whose whole life was focused on praising God, echoed Simeon’s words of who this child was, is and will be. This ordinary ritual act of coming to the temple that had been done by thousands of families, on this day revealed God’s extraordinary work, love and mercy for the world. Mary and Joseph must have had the sense of being swept up into something beyond themselves. This simple ritual refocused them to what God was doing through them and Jesus.
We view so much in our lives as ordinary. We go to our ordinary jobs, ordinary schools, run our ordinary errands, take our children to ordinary activities, go to our ordinary homes, see ourselves as ordinary and assume that nothing much is significant in all of that ordinariness. But in Luke today we hear that there is extraordinary in the ordinary and it is in these seemingly innocuous intersections where we are reminded that God is the focus of our lives and swept up into the mystery of God. Rituals have the power and the ability to orient our minds, souls and bodies to the one who created them. It’s not just about rituals in a church building, but it’s about the church as the people of God pointing to God in the world wherever and whatever they are doing.
This morning we celebrate the ritual of baptism with Owen and Cooper. Through ordinary water and words spoken by ordinary people, God’s love, mercy and promises for eternal life are revealed and proclaimed. God declares that in the ordinary water washing over their heads, Owen and Cooper belong to God, belong to the community of God’s people, are swept up into the mystery of life with God and are extraordinarily beloved. Their lives and our lives, reflect and proclaim the promises of God for everyone-no place, person or circumstance is too ordinary for God to be present. Today we are all promising to help teach and include Owen and Cooper in rituals such as The Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Apostles Creed, Holy Communion, daily prayers, scripture reading, faith conversations and blessing. We are promising to each day reorient our lives to center on Jesus as we walk with them in their faith journey. But even our day to day “ordinary” rituals also have the capacity to remind us, to reveal to us and others around us, that we are surrounded by the love of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit reveals for us that in the life of God, all is extraordinary, as God has created us, all of us, to participate in God’s work of redemption in the world. With each breath, we are a part of the mystery of God’s presence and love. We may not always understand this or even recognize it as so, which is precisely why we gather to share in rituals of the ordinary earthly elements that point to so much more than we can see today, here and now. Through songs, words, water, bread and wine we focus ourselves on the reality of Jesus’ presence and love. Like Simeon and Anna, we offer with one another praises to God and speak, share and reveal to one another Jesus in our lives, the one who dwelt among us, sweeps us up into eternal life with God, with one another and who came to redeem us all. Amen.