Sometimes I think you’d be mad not to go to church. I have thought this more strongly than ever in the aftermath of the Bourke St tragedy, where, in scenes that are now familiar but I suspect first occurred after Princess Diana’s untimely death, thousands of people visit the site of an accident, laying flowers and soft toys and opening weeping.
I have no way of knowing what historical or current grief is reactivated by an event such as this one. Every human heart holds pain known only to its inhabitant. But to me this public outpouring, which seems at first blush to be out of proportion to the griever’s personal link to the tragedy, speaks of the human need for ritual in times of distress and trauma, even someone else’s.
In the past, when there was a war on, the churches filled. These days, with the appalling abuse meted out by churches coming to light, this is no longer an option most people consider. But maybe it should be.
This is what happens each week in a mainstream church service (and, if you’re lucky, it will be done well, with dignity and down to earthiness, including the great traditions but simultaneously in touch with the 21st century situation).
We gather, we are called to worship God, and we offer praise and also thanks for the many gifts that grace our lives. We sing songs that date from the third century to our own.
We bring to God – to a greater power than us, the beating heart of love at the centre of the universe – the world in all its mess, and us in all ours. Our prayers of confession are not a breast-beating grovel so much as an admission that we have stuffed up during the past week and yearn to do better.
In the prayers of the people, we bring to God our grief and confusion about the state of the world, from the wholesale destruction in Syria to the homless in Melbourne, to the dramas members of our own family are going through. It is a lament.
We hear a sermon, which is different from a lesson, a lecture or a speech, in that it opens up ancient words for our own situation. We may be lucky enough to have communion, where in some powerful way we take God into ourselves. At the end of the hour, we are sent out, refreshed and unburdened, to be channel of God’s peace in a world that needs peace more than ever.
It seems to me that church is one of the few places in our world where deeply considered ritual helps a person to be fully human, realistically engaged with the world but drawing on resources from beyond ourselves.
Weeping at the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth may be an important thing to do. But there is ritual available every week of our lives. You’d be crazy not to avail yourself of it.
This was pubished in the March 2017 edition of The Melbourne Anglican