A reflection on Epiphany 4C: Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
In one form or another we all have rituals we engage in. The morning ritual in my house includes a cat who chortles and sings for her breakfast and a herd of dogs scrambling underfoot, excited for their food. But before anyone gets fed we start the coffee pot, and then while the coffee is brewing the animals are fed. My morning routine always includes a cup of coffee, a quick check of email and Facebook, and then usually some exercise.
Other rituals, not just daily ones, mark our lives. Bridal showers and baby showers. High school or college graduation. Weddings. The birth of children. Death and a funeral. And birthday celebrations.
When I was young we celebrated our birthdays with just our immediate family. I don’t remember ever having a birthday party with people other than my parents and brothers, in part because we lived far from other family. But our family birthday parties always included the opportunity for the birthday person to decide the menu – what would we have for dinner? And what kind of cake or pie would we have?
Birthdays celebrate the years past and offer hope for the year ahead. They honor that life is important, a gift worth celebrating. Likewise, rituals are important occasions intended to mark key transitions in life.
Today we celebrate such an occasion with our Rite 13 ceremony. Our children begin their Christian Formation in the Prayer Room. There they hear stories from the Bible and learn about the Christian faith. They pray together and work on an activity. Today they are making alleluia scrolls – writing the word “Alleluia” on a piece of paper/fabric and decorating it, then rolling it into a scroll and tying it with a ribbon –these scrolls will be buried on the first Sunday of Lent. We do this because Lent is a more solemn season of reflection, one in which we try not to say or sing alleluia, thus symbolizing that we are in the season of Lent.
From the Prayer Room the kids move up to Weaving God’s Promises. In this class we learn about the saints of the church and hear the stories of Christian people through the ages. These stories are woven into stories from scripture giving us a fuller picture of the life God desires for all of us.
When the kids are about eleven they move into Journey to Adulthood. This is a six year formational time that includes Rite 13, J2A, and the YAC group. Rite 13’ers spend two years learning about life and faith, transitioning into the teenage years with all the complexity of life that accompanies that. The Rite 13 ceremony honors that our kids are growing up and maturing – the teenage years function as the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Following Rite 13 our kids move into J2A. This two year formation time is marked by a pilgrimage at the end of the two years. Their time together is spent learning about their faith life and preparing for the pilgrimage. They have to determine where they are going and how they are going to raise the funds to get there. Our kids have hosted a car wash, they park cars for the annual Dearborn homecoming festival, they held a tin can raffle, and today they are selling chili for the Superbowl. In June the kids are going to the Pacific Northwest for a week of service and fun.
After J2A the kids move into the YAC group. YAC stands for Young Adults in Church. These high school aged kids spend their first year preparing for confirmation – another ritual in our life of faith – in which kids who were baptized as infants make an adult affirmation of their decision to live their life of faith as Episcopalians. In their second year the YAC group takes on a service project. This year the YAC group is working with the Blessings in a Backpack ministry. They’ve packed backpacks and are preparing to lead us in a contest – four churches will compete to see which church can bring in the most jars of peanut butter. They will bring more details to you soon.
Rituals that mark significant moments in life are what we do in the church. We honor birth with baptism, growing from childhood to adulthood with the Rite 13 ceremony, and making adult affirmations of faith with the confirmation ceremony. We celebrate weddings and the life a couple chooses to make together. And we celebrate the end of life with a funeral. Each of these rituals remind us that God has given us the gift of life.
Our reading from Jeremiah this morning makes this point clear. God gives us life and calls us to live our lives in particular ways. But, thankfully, God does not leave us to work this out on our own – God journeys with us. Jeremiah describes this as God putting God’s words in our mouths. We celebrate the gift of God with us in the Eucharist ritual of bread and wine.
Last week, Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians reminded us that we are each given gifts. Stated simply, our gifts from God are our strengths. This may or may not be about “skill” – our strengths may be as simple as our capacity to listen well to others or our ability to bring people together or our ability to teach.
This week in the letter to the Corinthians Paul writes that our gifts are to be used for God’s purposes. Our gifts are not in competition with one another, one gift – meaning our strength, what we do well – is not better than another. Rather each gift becomes part of the whole, like hands and feet are part of a body. The primary gift we all share is the ability to love as God loves – with compassion, grace, and mercy.
Paul is speaking about agapē, the love embodied most visibly in God’s love for humankind in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This love is not a feeling, but an action. Agappe love is the point and purpose of our individual gifts and the culmination of our combined gifts and it is realized when we do something – when we live as God calls us to live. Rituals, Christian Formation, and our time spent in Christian Community enables us to hone and refine our sense of life, wherein we learn and grow in our capacity to love as God loves.
This morning marks one of those occasions when a ritual deepens our understanding of love as we celebrate our young people growing up in faith. Today we celebrate Sarah and Peter moving into adulthood and promise to journey with them in their life of faith, loving them all along the way.