But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 [ESV]
Yesterday I wrote about Tevye’s song in Fiddler on the Roof, Tradition! Today I want to write about five traditions I especially appreciate. These five (an arbitrary number), are particularly meaningful to me. And for a bonus, I’ll explain the one tradition that I believe to be edifying, but have not embraced. So in reverse order of importance, here are the five:
Number 5: Standing during the Gospel reading in the worship service
This tradition dates back to as early as the 200’s. The Didascalia (a Christian legal treatise) states, “at the conclusion of all the Scriptures, the Gospels shall be read as being the seal of all Scriptures; and let the people listen to it standing upon their feet, because it is good tidings of the redemption of all men.” I also like the idea that we stand for the Gospel reading in a posture meant to represent the resurrection; we have risen with Christ and seek things from above. The posture of standing also signifies that we are ready to respond to God right away, always, and with joy. What a great tradition!
Number 4: Kneeling at the altar rail to receive Holy Communion
When I serve Holy Communion, I receive it from one of the other pastors or from an elder of the church. I don’t typically kneel at that time; it’s a matter of logistics. I am no more or less blessed either way. The worthiness for communion is simple faith in the words of Jesus, that his body and blood were given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Taking communion is not a tradition. It is a command of Jesus: “Do this…” he commands. As to how we receive it, there is no direct command. Nor is there a command that we recline at a table, or use a certain kind of wine. Kneeling is a tradition. It is a posture of humility, subjugation, and respect. It’s not disrespectful to stand or sit while taking the Lord’s Supper. In fact the first disciples were reclining at table with Jesus when he first instituted the meal. I simply find the tradition of kneeling at the altar rail to receive the Lord’s Supper to be edifying.
Number 3: Attending worship on Christmas Day
“Christmas Day worship is my favorite service of the year.” I have said this for years in my service as pastor. It’s the end of a long run of services. With midweek Advent worship services, and over the years five services on Christmas Eve (yes 5!), Christmas day worship marked the beginning of a down time for our family. It’s also a one-and-done service. We come to church. Sing praise to God for the gift of Jesus, hear the Gospel message of “Good News of great joy for all people,” offer our prayers and offerings to God and go home afterwards to Christmas Day dinner and an afternoon of joyful reflection (or travel on many Christmas days in the past).
Number 2: The “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” greeting on Easter Sunday morning
Don’t judge me about this being #2 as opposed to # 1. I did rank it higher than Christmas Day worship. Over the years Easter Sunday began with a SONrise service at which time the altar is dressed (after being stripped for Good Friday worship), banners proclaiming “Aalleluia!” are unfurled, and the refrain is spoken, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” There just can’t be too many exclamation marks in this traditional greeting. This is supremely good news. Jesus lives! The victory is won! Christ has triumphed! He is risen! From the GotQuestions website: The words “He is risen!” remind us of the joyous news we celebrate at Easter, that Jesus’ death was not in vain, and that He has the power to overcome death. Saying “He is risen!” allows us to share this incredible truth with each other. The resurrection of Christ gives us hope for salvation and for our own resurrection and eternal life. Amen. Alleluia!
Number 1: Speaking (or singing) the Aaronic benediction at the end of the worship service
I delight in being able to speak these words to God’s gathered people at the end of the worship service. It is a privilege I have as a pastor to speak these words. I hold my hands high in the manner that God told Aaron to do in Numbers 6:23-27
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
To mediate that blessing of God’s favor on people is one of my greatest joys. Some pastors utilize other benedictions (the word means good word or good speaking). And there is no direct New Testament command to use only this one. But this one is special to me for reasons I cannot explain… except that I do bless people and put God’s name on them: You are his!
Bonus: The Tradition I do not observe
Many Lutheran pastors begin their sermons with the apostolic greeting, “Grace, mercy, and peace be yours, from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” I never want to deny that to anyone, but I never really embraced that traditional start to a sermon. It is a salutary greeting to be sure. And while I want to offer God’s grace, mercy, and peace, I want to do that more specifically in the context of the message I am about to deliver.
What’s your favorite tradition? Does it honor Christ? Does it edify the believer? Does it serve the cause of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus? Does it express the reality of Christ’s reign and rule in your heart? I think those are good ways to uphold edifying traditions.