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Spiritual Reflection – Pentecost 14

Spiritual Reflection – Human Tradition and God’s Commandments

As most of you know I was raised in the tradition and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church from a young age and I wasn’t exposed to the Anglican Church until late in my adult life. One of the positive aspects of the Anglican Church (particularly in the Diocese of Melbourne) that I became aware of is its diversity of traditions of worship. You can visit a parish that might be described as very “low church”–where the priest doesn’t wear robes and vestments or even a clerical collar when conducting a service, and where there are no candles, even no Holy Communion, and where a full rock band performs contemporary Christian songs–and you can visit a parish which is very “high church”–that is to say the priest and any other attending ministers wear very ceremonial robes and vestments, and where there are copious numbers of candles in the church, where clouds of smoke from burning incense fill the church, and where classical Christian hymns burst forth from a full choir dressed in choral robes, accompanied by a grand and magnificent organ.

One of my earliest experiences in the Anglican Church was in what I would describe as a fairly”high church” setting. The liturgy itself was similar in a lot of respects to what I had grown up with in the Roman Catholic Church, however a number of the traditions or practices associated with the liturgy were new to me.

Certain members of the clergy in this particular church were quite intense when it came to correctly observing the relevant liturgical practices of the church. On more than one occasion I was personally chastised, and I was witness to several other lay assistants also being sternly rebuked, for having made perfectly innocent mistakes during the service, mistakes which I’m fairly sure had gone unnoticed by most (if not all) of the members of the congregation.

I couldn’t help but think of the hypocrisy of these clerics in their treatment of myself and my fellow servers. Jesus calls us to love God with our whole being and, by extension, to love our neighbours as ourselves. I wondered how Jesus might have responded to innocent mistakes made during the liturgy of the Sunday service. Would he have chastised or rebuked those making the mistakes? My sense is he would have been more upset by the behaviour of the clergy involved, who were more concerned for human tradition than they were for his call to observe the Two Great Commandments.

Jesus was critical of the Pharisees for putting human tradition ahead of God’s commandments, and for failing in their duty as guardians of the Jewish law to correctly help the people of Israel to interpret God’s commandments. What has been your experience of human tradition relative to God’s commandments–especially God’s commandment to love God with our whole being and, by extension, to love our neighbours as ourselves? 

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