As a child I used to love finding the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. Inthose days of yore the prizes are actually pretty good. Who could not resist a slimy stretchy hand or a wall climber? It was the prizes that determine the type of cereal I would beg mom would buy each week. If Sugar Smacks® had a better prize than Froot Loops®, then of course I would Dig ‘em®! I believed that the prize helped make the cereal taste better and maybe even allowed for a more meaningful encounter between me and my potential breakfast.
It wasn’t until my cynical teens that I figured out it was simply a marketing gimmick designed to sell cereal. It was quite a surprise to realize that the major brands did not really care for much more than selling cereal to the unsophisticated child who would demand that mom buy the right kind. Oh well, as a child, like a child.
This came to mind as I was preparing for the Pentecost liturgy this week, as I was reminded of all the gimmicks I have either seen used, or to my shame, have used on that day. Readings in foreign languages? Check. Doves on fishing poles flying through the congregation? Check. Red Balloons? Check. Sharing of Bid Red Gum and Atomic Fireballs to give us tongues of fire? Check. Shaking of key rings simulating wind chimes to symbolize the wind of the Holy Spirit? Check.
Now, each of these were designed to make the liturgy more “meaningful” and allow for greater “participation” in the meaning of the day. In the end, they were nothing more than an attempt to be cool, or hip, or sell the service as something different and unique. Thus, they said much more about the promoter than the day, and subtly promulgatged a belief that the the power of Pentecost could not be known without a little help from its friends. Frankly, however, the real inspiration behind them was not to make the liturgy meaningful, but a belief that the liturgy could not speak for itself or had no real power, and needed us to jump-start a “meaningful” (read “emotional”) experience through our “creativity”.
So what could possibly be wrong with reading the lessons in other languages? Nothing, if a significant number of your members speak that language. Otherwise it is just a show of how learned the clergy and members are (hey, read the Gospel in Greek!), or a calling out that we have one or two who actually know a foreign language. Of course, we then forget that most won’t actually hear the lesson in their native language, which was kind of the point of Pentecost to begin with as, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2.11). But, hey, why should we have intelligibility when foreign, or ancient, languages are so cool and fun?
As for wind chime keys, remember that entrance of the Holy Spirit was not like a soft summer breeze, but was “a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2.2). Mighty rushing winds don’t make soft tinkling sounds, they overwhelm. We aren’t being tinkled on Pentecost, we are being rushed over and changed.
No, none of those for me this year. I believe that the Liturgy itself speaks the importance of this day for us as believers. We do not need to add gimmicks to increase its meaning or emotive impact.
However, if you desire to find the full meaning of the Liturgy and be challenged/changed by it, just do what the Church has done throughout its history. What is that you ask? Well, pray throughout the week for your mindful attendance, your fellow Christians’ attendance, and your clerical leadership. Pray that the clergy are filled with the anointing of God in bringing the homily and presiding over the liturgy. Conduct a self-examination to see where sin is operative in your life, is keeping you from living the Gospel life, and bring that with you to the confession. Read holy works, Scripture and others, throughout the week and mediate on the readings for the Sunday. Remember that you are not just celebrating a Sunday in May, but Pentecost, or Trinity, or Proper 15, and if you have to miss remember that you are not just missing a Sunday, or a service, but a particular Sunday and say your prayers.
We do not need gimmicks to worship. We simply need to be prepared.
Although, if I could figure out a way to light foreheads on fire….