By David Hegg
Several years ago I officiated a wedding for two young people entering into marriage for the first time. It was a big deal, with a proper venue, pictures, and lots of family and friends in attendance. But for me it was very different from any ceremony I had done before.
Looking back, I have to consider it my first post-modern wedding in that the bride and groom decided to make their wedding common in every respect. They wanted nothing to do with those ideals and traditions that for generations had made weddings noble events. In fact, they were rebelling against noble, and against any pomp and ceremony. They dressed in casual clothes, had a ceremony that lasted barely 20 minutes, and then made a mad dash to a reception of pizza and cupcakes. Their reason? “We just want to be ourselves and not have any of that high-brow stuff.”
Since then, it is noticeable that many are following suit. We are watching the leveling of society in which there is little difference between the way we address everyday life and our attitude toward those events that are monuments in life. It shows in the increasingly narrow distinction between formal and casual attire, but the effects are actually far greater. The simple truth is that we as a people have less and less of a stomach for grandeur, for nobility of purpose, or for deep reflection and poignancy in celebration. We’ve opted instead for instant gratification, shallow thinking, and a determination never to be confused with someone who takes history and tradition seriously. We are acting like children who think our generation is the first one that actually matters, and we’re intent on redefining everything.
This desire to downsize the magnificent shows up in other places as well. Take the holiday that many celebrate today. What began as an awe-filled remembrance of the greatest miracle in the history of mankind – the bodily resurrection to life of the crucified Jesus – has increasingly been remade into a day for candy, and the absurdity of a rabbit who is somehow connected with eggs. Some churches have actually espoused this tomfoolery in an attempt to attract the egg folks. Sadly, a compromised message soon becomes no message at all. When you downsize the noble to the level of triviality, everyone loses.
The same could be said for Christmas, whose original character has drastically been eroded by consumer frenzy and stories of beneficent elves. And it is not just religious holidays that are being drained of their ethos. It is evident Independence Day, Veterans Day and Labor Day, for example, seldom bring out serious reflection in us. Most now think of these not as days set aside for national remembrance, sober thinking, renewed commitment and respectful celebration, but as time to shop the sales, eat and drink too much, and generally veg.
The real question is actually not about how many memories we hold, or how many times we face an occasion in formal wear. It is deeper than that. The big question is whether we think there still are occasions in our lives that deserve a response from us that is higher than our everyday thinking. Are there days and events that are meant to lift us out of our commonness and remind us that life is more than a boring string of 24-hour segments? Does the history of society tell us that we need special and noble celebrations to show us that we were meant for something more, something bigger than our individuality, something grand and epic and magnificent and much, much bigger than ourselves?
I believe the answer is a resounding yes. I believe that formal occasions and events and celebrations are among those ways that God is reminding us of our nobility as those who bear his image. As such, we must never be satisfied with a mind-numbing existence. The quest to level everything in society down to the everyday will have the effect of saying that our lives mean nothing more than whatever fun we can find for the weekend.
Today is Easter. I prefer to think of it as Resurrection Sunday. And I offer you this challenge. At some point today, turn your thoughts away from your plans and consider this. If the grave really was empty, and Jesus really did come back from death to life, then it means this life is merely a prelude to the next. It also means that how we live this life really matters, and we’d better get it right.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.