I have a confession to make: I don’t really care very much about tradition.
I know, it’s a terrible thing for a Lutheran to say.
I love worship, and I love liturgy. It’s just that I don’t care that much about how they get accomplished.
Recently during the Saturday morning diakonia class I’ve been attending for the last 18 months, a lively discussion erupted about Lutheran worship – contemporary vs. traditional, how often to commune, what the pastor should wear, what the acolytes should do.
Everyone seemed to have an opinion except for me.
I’ve heard some older members of the church say that my lack of interest in tradition has to do with my age – that millennials just don’t have any respect for history or institutions.
I even had a pastor point directly at me during a class and say, “You millennials are pluralists. You think all theologies are created equal, and that every religion is right.”
But I don’t think my feelings have much to do with age or pluralism. Instead, I think it has to do with the fact that I didn’t grow up Lutheran.
In the evangelical churches where I grew up, we had few traditions. There was no rootedness to ancient liturgy. No one ever used the word “sacrament.” In fact, I was 25 years old before I even learned the Lord’s Prayer.
But it was the power of the sacramental that drew me to the Lutheran tradition. I love the language, the rituals. I guess I just love them so much it never occurred to me that they could be right or wrong.
Recently a friend invited me to meet her for a midweek prayer service at the Episcopal congregation she attends.
When I showed up a few minutes before the service, the 10 or so people in the sanctuary were all quietly gazing in contemplation at the artwork in the sanctuary, the candles flickering on the altar.
Then as the priest made his way down the center aisle, I was surprised to find my friend fumbling to find her place in the prayer book.
As I reached out to help, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I’m not actually a believer. I just like the ritual.”
I looked at her and laughed. “What a relief,” I thought. Suddenly the pressure was off to keep up.
We sat back and listened to the readings, the prayers, watched in wonder as the acolyte cleansed the priest’s hands for communion, joined in as everyone around us knew instinctively when to kneel, when to stand, when to circle around the altar for the wine and the bread.
I have no idea if the candles were the right color or the prayers were in the right order or if the wine was the right temperature (I’m just kidding–though if there is a correct temperature for communion wine, I’m sure someone will let me know).
Later I found out that many of those gathered were also from other traditions. A regular group of young adults attends weekly from another non-liturgical church simply to take communion as a group.
But for that hour we lone liturgical wanderers had found a place to wonder, to engage in the mystery of a tradition that had existed for centuries before we had come along, to join together with others without questioning our theological differences or personal beliefs.
We did the best we could to follow along. We passed the peace. We broke the bread and drank from the cup.
And whether we were doing it right or not, I am sure of this: God was definitely there.