Ritual serves as a consistent reminder of a too-easily overlooked truth. They’re the automatic ‘I love you’ at the end of a phonecall after an argument. Rituals frequently say to ourselves and others what we mean to say, but don’t want to or remember to.
Communion - what this post is ostensibly about - is a ritual reminder. What is communion? A frequent meal to remind ourselves and each other of Jesus, his sacrifice, and his how readily and generously and violently he gave himself. That ritual can be obscured, by restricting who has access to the communion meal, trouble over whether the elements need to be truly bread and wine, or is ribena ok, or maybe even coke?
Would cake and coffee work as a more present reminder in our café culture? It’s a frequent communal meal; coffee, while not as violently red as wine/ribena, still suffers through a lot to get to you. However merely my loose attitude to the elements carries it’s own symbolism - that of a humanist-inspired anti-traditionalism - which is something I carry and have to be careful of.
Growing up in churches, you become exposed to these rituals being treated as ends in themselves - everything must be just so, and if someone takes communion then that means the church ‘approves’ of them - and you can’t approve of just anyone, goodness!. This is the danger of losing sight of what the ritual points to and assuming the power is in the ritual itself. I grew up in baptist-inspired churches - where baptism is a Thing that must be done right. And while I think there is certainly truth baptism being important, I don’t feel entirely comfortable with the veneration of it, or the negation of traditions where baptism is practiced differently.
Christianity is filled with rituals, and the history of the church is filled with arguments about rituals - what’s essential to Christianity, what’s completely wrong, and what’s just there if you want it. Rituals tend to accrue because they have a good place and purpose: they’re a reminder, a lens, but they can come to overpower what they are meant to signify because they’re more physical and therefore easier to put rules around. And we love rules.