Tradition is a word that evokes a wide range of emotion. Some think of traditions and feel safe and warm all over, while others would happily take the name Scrooge if it meant freedom from mindless monotony. But a tradition by itself does not find its value in how it makes us feel. Rather, its worth is assessed by who it makes us remember.
Throughout the Scriptures we are called to remember the Lord: his works, his law, his death, and his promises. Tradition is a tool for remembering. With it, we pass down truth through generations wwhich should evoke questions and investigation in each. Just as the Lord planned for the service of the Passover to provoke the questions of children (Exodus 12:26), we want our kids to ask why we do strange things like bring a tree indoors, bury our dead, or sprinkle people with water in church. Some of our traditions are personal and some are required of the people of God, but all should find their ultimate end in worship to Christ. Thoughtless traditions can cause disobedience to God for generations, but biblically informed traditions can serve as safe-guards and position us to celebrate truth in all its joy and glory.
Consider the Lord’s Day, for example. Every Sunday is a holiday, set aside to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection on the first day of the week. We go to corporate worship, we feast, and we rest, some of us go back to church. By beginning the week this way, we copy the gospel pattern— rest then work, grace then obedience. We rest from our work because in Christ we are at rest from self-sufficiency. We save our best food for a Sunday feast after we’ve gathered with the saints to feast on the Lord’s Supper and the preached word of God. We mark time to a gospel rhythm as we, throughout the week, look back to the resurrection and forward to Christ’s return.
Of course, there will be many occasions when we do not remember all of the carefully constructed reasons why we set these traditions in motion. Certainly going through the motions does not accomplish worship, but it does tether us to the place where the Holy Spirit normally works to instill worship in us. When our memory falters, tradition positions us to have it jogged. When our fickle feelings toss us about like the waves of the sea, biblical tradition anchors us to a safe-harbor where we can hear from God.
If our traditions are to serve as anchors and signposts to Christ, we must be constantly assessing and reforming them. Far from mindlessly following, we must study the Scriptures and think hard about why and how we celebrate. Traditions talk. Through them, we want to communicate clearly the hope that we have to ourselves, our neighbors, and a world in need.
Danielle Spencer is the happy wife and helper of Chris Spencer and the homeschooling mom of 8 kids (1 of whom is due this August). They are members of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI. She writes about their adventures and other musings at talkingwall.org
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