Therefore, as you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and
teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
"Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."
Traditions are present in every culture, religion, nation, and family group. Even groups of friends, organizations, businesses, and churches have traditions to memorialize events, to remember certain lessons, people, and places that are gone but still important. Traditions and symbols help us remember things as individuals and groups. They are a teaching tool. Jewish folks remember their history and the law through traditional holidays and High Holy Days. Catholics remember specific saints with feast days. As Presbyterians, we celebrate Reformation day in worship. Almost all Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter and other holy seasons. And there's valid criticism that we often lose the meaning in the pageantry or elaborateness of the celebrations. And notably, Jehovah's Witnesses do NOT celebrate holidays and birthdays, with that fear in mind. Somewhere between, is a balance.
If the quote is true, and I believe it is, tradition helps us to hold onto what is important in our history and aids in passing it on. It is a dedication to remembering our history for a purpose. Traditionalism becomes dedication to the ways we remember, honor, or reflect upon or history, with little thought to the history itself. For instance, a simple meal of foods that pilgrims may have eaten hundreds of years ago, gathering with family and friends, and giving thanks for the gifts of that year from our God would be a fine tradition. Insisting on the right kind of canned cranberries and Grands crescent rolls (of which I may be found guilty) would be traditionalism. Right day, wrong focus.
Why then should any of this matter for us as Christians? We are a people with 2,000 years of history and a shared history with our Jewish brothers and sisters for thousands of years before that. It is very easy and highly tempting to trade allegiances from traditions to traditionalism. Tradition is a tool, but traditionalism is idolatry. Any time we shift or slide from the utility of something for our faithful walk to valuing the tool on its own, we have fashioned ourselves an idol to replace God, Esther than a tool to worship God. We do this when we place a value on which instruments are used in worship music, whether we sing the oldest hymns or newest, shorter or longer sermons, Old or New Testament lessons, style or location or timing of worship services. All of these are tools for worshipping God and coming together to fellowship and be encouraged. When we cling to old normals in a changing world rather than to God's word, God's work, and God's workers, we become idolaters and idle, rather than faithful flexible followers.
I hope that mask-wearing, social distancing, refraining from visiting family and embracing, or parking lot worship will become our history and not our new necessary tradition. But until then, I hope I'll see you in your cars, on Zoom, and across outdoor spaces from me as we worship and work together in glory to God.