In a recent post on his blog Mike Slaughter
, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church
(A United Methodist Congregation), said in reference to the pope's visit:
I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the Pope’s visit. What does Jesus think of the waste of money that goes on in the pageantry of the church? No wonder so much of the world looks at the church as irrelevant when our leaders march in medieval robes and pointed hats? . . .
I was saddened a bit . . . after all I am a lover of the liturgy of the church. I believe that there is a place for all the pomp and circumstance in the worship of almighty God. After all we give pomp and circumstance to other things: heads of state, sports teams, movie stars, reality television personalities, politicians, and even to national symbols. Why not God?
Mike later says:
In regard to the pageantry and meetings, many of you will remind me that this is tradition and we have always done it this way. Those are the famous last words of a dying church. Jesus reminds us that you can’t put God’s new wine in old wineskins.
I am not sure that the problem in the American church is pomp, I think the problem is indifference. The problem is not that in the pageantry we have lost the meaning but that in making God so accessible we have made God another commodity: something that we can own, control, and turn off when we no longer need it.
I say more pomp is needed. More signs and symbols that the God we serve is the creator of the universe and that it is that God that wants to meet each of us in the person of Jesus Christ.
We can worship in this way without being snobbish, cold, and patriarchal. I agree with Mike when he grieves that in Roman Catholicism "women are excluded from the parade." I also agree that more representation is needed by the lay faithful in the governance of the church. These issues are issues of polity and theology not issues of worship. As a United Methodist pastor I believe that this makes it more important for us to recover our liturgical and sacramental theology and practice.
The pointed hats, the long robes, the long processionals, the incense, candles, and other signs are reminders, and powerful sign-acts that what we do in worship is no casual matter; that the one that calls us together is worthy of Glory, Honor, and Praise. In this rehearsal of the great wedding banquet we are most alive as people of God and better empowered to be the church in the world.
This encounter with the holy, week after week, is indeed new wine in new wine skins. Thanks be to God!