As I write this, I am thinking about our Purim celebration and our Passover Seder plans. Of course, if Purim and Passover are coming up, then Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Holy Week are too. And all of these are wonderful opportunities for worship, fellowship and growing in faith, and all are rich in tradition.
Tradition! We are all probably familiar with Tevye’s take on tradition in The Fiddler on the Roof. This month, for our Shabbat fellowship on the 17th, we are hosting a sing-a-long (and dance-a-long!) evening with Fiddler on the Roof. And while I will laud the value of tradition along with Tevye, I will also grieve a little.
Tevye’s whole perspective is that living in this world is a tenuous proposition. Life is hard, and you never know what the world is going to throw at you. So you rely on tradition to keep your balance. Because, “without our traditions, life would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof.”
Traditions are good things. . .until they’re not. We all know the joke, “How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?” The punch line is of course, (with a horrified look on one’s face), Change!? I was with a group of guys the other night, and a few were Lutherans, and one of them added to that old joke with the addendum, “My grandfather paid for that lightbulb!”
There are traditions that strengthen our faith and grow us as a people of God. I would argue that the celebration of biblically historic festivals and days fall into that category including all those that I mentioned above. Liturgy can be in that category and unites us with the historic Church throughout the ages, even as ours unites us with the historic Church, even before the 3rd century!
But some traditions serve only to serve our flesh. The old “we’ve never done it that way before” can stifle our growth in faith. Lutherans are full of those kinds of traditions too. So are the Jewish people. And the worst tradition of all is that “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” I’ve heard that both from Lutherans and Jews, and that’s when I grieve. Because, though our God is unchanging, for those of us who believe in Jesus, “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52) and raised imperishable. Praise Him!