Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Things Formal

Last weekend I attended a memorable 21st birthday. Mostly, it was an informal gathering, with food brought around the crowded house - inside and out; people talking, meeting, laughing, and casually sharing life together. But then, it came time for a few speeches. Not many, and not for long, but just a few. The people hushed; the father talked about his dear daughter; the mother added a few things; as did a sister, much in jest and good fun; then came the response from the delightful 21 year old daughter. In particular she thanked her parents, rather movingly, for introducing her to Jesus: the best thing they could ever have done. It was profound; sweet; genuine; moving; a lifetime wrapped up into a few sentences; a person or two called out and joked, about a few other funny matters; then, simply, the formalities concluded with the cutting of the cake; and then sharing it around; this part of the day, made the day.

Yes, the formalities, though brief, were wonderful; essential really; they made the day!

In a world, which has become increasingly casual, I for one, am glad that there are still formalities.

It is possible, even in our casual forms of Christianity, to pray and worship the Father, our God, alone, in a formal manner; with speech which is not merely chit chat, with a friend (there are many times for that). There is a time for every matter under heaven; just as i have spoken in my 'best English' to a well educated more senior doctor, or dentist, with a degree of care, and choosing words wisely, so too, I recently prayed alone, in words well chosen, and even slightly formal; it was a liberating and dignifying experience;

Some Sunday morning services, could do with a little less liturgy and formality, I shall agree. But many more, could do with a degree of - for want of a better word - formality. I may mean seriousness, or solemnity, or clarity of thought, or holiness of speech, or 'our best English'; but whatever, come what may, I am sure that to lift our sense of grandeur and wonder, and high praise the the Most High God, who has come so near to us in Jesus Christ, we would do well to speak in terms which are dignified, and perhaps at times, slightly formal. This does enrich life and worship.

I came to this revelation, regarding formality, while reading Psalm 116:14 "I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people". This is a section of Psalms (113-118) which constitute the 'Egyptian Hallel" and were used in connection with the great festivals. Praise the Lord, for rich, genuine liturgy, and formality, filled with the presence of the Living Christ, enlivened by the most Holy Spirit.

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