Last night I had the immense privilege of going to the Easter Vigil service at the local cathedral.
I really enjoyed it - it was a great service. Lots of incense and robes and powerful liturgy and a sermon that taught Scriptural truths well, and at the heart of it all the great affirmation that Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed, Hallelujah!)
And the fact I thought it was such a good service got me thinking again about the role of ceremony and so on. Normally, I prefer a fairly light liturgy; none of the churches I usually frequent uses robes very often, and I think if we have that sort of thing every week it is easy to get distracted from Jesus and from being forced to confront the truth for oneself by the ceremony. But ceremony can work very well on occasion, particularly when done on special occasions.
It's easy for evangelicals to reject all the ceremony, but we often overargue our case and end up seeming to say that the physical world doesn't matter and all that matters is feeding brains in jars with more information about God. (I'm a conservative evangelical - I'm allowed to say things like that about conservative evangelicals). But it isn't. We're human beings, with bodies and senses and minds that are not as rational as modernism likes to think they are.
So time for an Easter quote from Richard Hooker:
The end which is aimed at in setting down the outward form of all religious actions is the edification of the church. Now men are edified when either their understanding is taught somewhat whereof in such actions it behoveth all men to consider or when their hearts are moved with any affection suitable thereunto; when their minds are in any sort stirred up unto that reverence, devotion, attention and due regard which in those cases seemeth requisite. Because therefore unto this purpose not only speech but also sundry sensible means besides have always been thought necessary and especially those means which being object to the eye, the liveliest and most apprehensive sense of all other, have in that respect seemed the fittest to make a deep and a strong impression...