As we’ve read through Acts I’ve picked out how Households played a key role in the life and vitality of the church. The instancing of Acts 2, 4 and 8 are samples that demonstrated how important Households were for the spread of the church through Judea and Samaria and this was repeated as the church spread out into Antioch, the Eastern Mediterranean and then into Rome
One of the important things we need to do as we explore this theme is to avoid two opposite mistakes. The first, is to romanticise the past and to imagine that if we just duplicate the past then we will be able to duplicate the blessings and the depth of life experienced there. The second is that of anachronism where we understand the past applying the lens we use in the present to make judgements about the past for today.
I say this because one of the strengths of Households in Acts is the role rituals played within their lives. Rituals were part of parcel of every home whether Jew or Gentile and when they became Christians these rituals were not abandoned or left alone, instead they were transformed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within their lives.
An example of this it question of who you ate with. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians his whole letter is rooted in the failure of the church to keep on demonstrating the new life of the Gospel and the new humanity we are in Jesus. The church had returned to keeping the division between Jew and Gentile, Male and Female, Slave and Free and this was seen clearest in the ritual of who you ate with. What had been the greatest demonstration of the life of the Spirit now became their biggest failing as they allowed old divisions outside of Christ to dictate what the church should look like.
When I use the word ritual it is very easy to become twitchy because of what we presume it means. When we think of this word we usually qualify it by adding the word ‘empty’ to it to show just how much we disapprove of it. But this is a mistake.
A ritual is something we do to enrich our lives and to also demonstrate the presence and life changing power of Jesus, the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. A ritual is thus something very ordinary but which, because it is a vehicle for God to be at work in our lives, it becomes something extraordinary. Eating a meal is ordinary, but when you do this according to all that the Gospel is and means, then it becomes extraordinary.
Over these next weeks we will be thinking of many rituals we can do to help us know and live out the presence of Jesus in these strange times. If you like why not email the rituals you use that we may learn from each other.