Yesterday at the Rock, we talked about the atoning work of Jesus Christ. What a gift of love God has given to all who believe. John 3:16 states, “the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” We must believe.

                One of the ways to help with this is ritual. A ritual is a prescribed procedure for conducting religious ceremonies. This could be standing / kneeling while you pray, Sign of the Cross, observing communion a certain way, reading a creed or putting together a service. Rituals are a good thing, if done in the heart of worship, but once it becomes scripted or expected, it can loose its meaning and purpose. Many people just go through the process but have lost the power of its meaning. There are many churches that have boycotted anything that looks ritualistic which is sad because there are some rituals such as the one we are in now called Advent or Lent etc. that can be very powerful tools to help us remember and obey.

                One of the ways we remember is to have communion. In Luke 22 Jesus gave the instructions to the disciples. “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Deuteronomy 4:9Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Paul later instructed the church with the same directions. 1 Corinthians 11:3For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Communion is a very powerful time before the Lord. Sadly it has become ritualized and often meaningless. On our journey as a church I have been teaching that communion is much more than a symbolic act before the Lord. You are remembering what he has done for you; the wrath of God was satisfied. Communion is usually associated with the body gathering together in a corporate act of worship. This is good. This is a celebration before God but it is also a time to humble yourself before Him. What a great place to make things right with God. Try not to do it the same every time. Use cups and bread one time, participate individually, or take the elements together at the same time, the next time use Intinction (dipping the bread (Texas Toast) into the cup without touching your fingers to the juice of course.)
              As I was reading about this I am reminded once again how far the church has drifted from the intention behind communion. There are all these rules and regulations that go with it such as who can serve and who can partake. Let me take this a step further to mess up those law-abiding legalists. I remember at seminary there was an argument whether or not coke and chips could substitute for bread and juice. Probably at the time I would have said no. But now I would say yes. Before you stop reading, hear me out. We usually celebrate communion once a month corporately. Some churches celebrate every week but here is a way to celebrate communion three times or more a day. Have you wondered why you pray before your meal? We all know it is not possible to celebrate everyday corporately but it is possible this way. Every meal we pray, yes even in restaurants; if you don’t you should start. We thank God for what he has done for us and what he has given us. Take it a step further and remember the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ every time you eat. So yes if you are on a picnic and you have coke and chips, be thankful and do this in remembrance of me. If you are at Swiss Chalet do this in remembrance of me. If you are at home having breakfast on Saturday, do this in remembrance of me. This next ritual will continue this thought of continually remembering.

                 Another way to remember is the Sign of the Cross. This is not part of my tradition but it has strong meaning behind it. Unfortunately much that is Catholic is boycotted because it is Catholic.  This is a ritual that every Catholic participates in. Two of my kids attended a new Catholic high school. One information night I realized how little I knew about this ritual. Every so often people would cross themselves. It was so fast I did not even know what happened or why it happened. I was just reading a little about the Sign of the Cross and it has tremendous meaning. One person wrote, “Every day when we get up, when we go to bed, when we are at Mass, when we pass a church, when we pray, and numerous other times, we trace the Cross on ourselves. Simply, we use this visible act to praise and call on Jesus at every turn in our lives.” Another person said, “In the Sign of the Cross, we profess the deepest mysteries of the Christian Faith: the Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--and the saving work of Christ on the Cross. The combination of the words and the action are a creed--a statement of belief. We mark ourselves as Christians through the Sign of the Cross.” This is a very powerful ritual. It is not new. Deuteronomy 6:4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” This is actually what we are supposed to do. All day long every day we are to remember Jesus and acknowledge him as our Saviour. Look around your house. Do you have anything on the walls that remind you about Jesus when you look at them. I am sure we all have pictures of loved ones or scenes or abstracts but do we have the word of God on our walls. This is a simple thing to do. It reminds us and lets others know we are Christians. Our entrance has a picture that says, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” A picture frame says, “I know the plans I have for you.” Over my desk I have a picture of Hooks Christ that says, “if you love me keep my commandments.”  It is nice to look at these pictures to remember.

                Having said that having a picture on the wall does not make you holy nor does a ritual consecrate you. You may have noticed in Deuteronomy 6 that it said, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.” God knows your heart and if you are just worshipping with your lips you are in trouble. If you do participate for example in communion, you will be in trouble. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 11:27So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.” The writer from above said, “And yet, because we make the Sign of the Cross so often, we may be tempted to rush through it, to say the words without listening to them, to ignore the symbolism of tracing the shape of the Cross on our own bodies. A creed is not simply a statement of belief--it is a vow to defend that belief, even if it means following Our Lord and Savior to our own cross.” I believe we can apply this verse in 1 Corinthians to all our rituals. We must participate with a pure heart. This explains why the church is such a mess.

                We are all expected to carry our cross. Luke 14:26If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Jesus must be first. Just as Jesus died for us we must die for him. Participating in rituals does not do that for you but they can help. The next time you see a Catholic crossing themselves ask yourself if you not them are depending on Jesus for everything.

    Prayer: Read the Apostles Creed and then listen to the Newsboys “We Believe” (remember to buy the song on iTunes, don’t steal it)


    I believe in God, the Father almighty,

          creator of heaven and earth.

    I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

          who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

          and born of the virgin Mary.

          He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

          was crucified, died, and was buried;

          he descended to hell.

          The third day he rose again from the dead.

          He ascended to heaven

          and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.

          From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

    I believe in the Holy Spirit,

          the holy catholic church,

          the communion of saints,

          the forgiveness of sins,

          the resurrection of the body,

          and the life everlasting. Amen.