Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I recall a discussion once held in one of my liturgics classes. We were talking about manual actions and the celebration of the Eucharist and the difference between anamnesis, the active remembrance of an event in the past, and mimicry, the acting out of that remembrance. For example, as we remember the death of Jesus in Rite II, Prayer A (Expansive Language Version), the Celebrant says, “Jesus stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.” It is unhelpful, yet, unfortunately not uncommon, for the celebrant, standing behind the altar, likely within sight lines of a cross, to also extend his (let’s be honest, it’s often dudes doing this) arms in a kind of pantomime of words being said.
These kinds of things tend to happen when we are either a) uncomfortable with the power of our words, or b) unsure what to do with them. When talking about Jesus offering himself on the cross, these words have deep theological impact, and they can make us really uncomfortable. So, we take the attention away from the words and put it on ourselves. A similar thing happens at the fraction, when, in language that is foreign even too many priests, we talk of Jesus as the Passover, but often deflect it by way of a huge fraction motion.
There is no place that this tendency to pantomime away our discomfort is more apparent than on the Principal Feast which we will celebrate on Sunday, the Day of Pentecost. Now, I’m not here to be a buzzkill over the wearing of red or the decorating of your nave with doves and flames. I get that we need to make worship available to all of our senses, and I don’t want to suggest otherwise. I would, however, caution clergy and their worship committees to be careful in making those choices, and to think theologically about why they are being made. Are the dove kites going to enhance worship that day, or make it easier for us to avoid how little we [want to] understand the power of the Spirit. Is encouraging folks to wear red a symbol of our unity in the Body of Christ or simply a photo opp for the congregation’s Instagram account? Is the tradition of having the Acts lesson poorly read in many languages in any way edifying, or is it meant to keep us distracted so the preacher can preach yet another sermon on Jesus’ commandment that we love one another?
The active remembrance of the foundational stories of our faith is vitally important. Too important, in fact, to be reduced to kitchy reenactments. So, feel free to wear red this Sunday to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, but as inheritors of that same Spirit, also be ready to hear the powerful story of the Advocate’s arrival with power and might upon the disciples gathered in prayer.