More Room at the Table
No one tells you when you get married that you are also marrying a whole new set of family traditions. Maybe it’s meant to be implicitly understood. I, however, did not fully grasp the magnitude of this undertaking until I was waist deep in it, and let’s just say, the changes caused a lot of questions and required a bit of adjusting. Why would people wait to open Christmas presents until late in the afternoon on Christmas day rather than at 7 am in the morning? You mean to tell me you’ve kept every birthday card anyone ever wrote you? Linzen soup for Christmas Eve? What is in that?
If you are ever on the outside of such traditions, then you know what a lonely place that can be. Fortunately, my husband’s family is incredibly welcoming and kind. They were patient with me when I did not know the table prayers or unknowingly (okay, maybe knowingly) insulted their favorite Christmas tradition. They have welcomed me into their yearly routines with open arms, and together, we’ve all adjusted. They’ve stopped to clarify the significance of things because the rhythms of life that are important to them are worth explaining—sharing these explanations is part of what makes their traditions meaningful. I came from my own family’s traditions—traditions I also love—but I am so thankful my husband’s family has welcomed me into theirs.
Finding the Right Room
I’ve attended megachurches where multiple services per weekend were the norm, and the occasional ribbon dance was not unheard of. I’ve also been a member at Church of Christ congregations where a cappella singing and weekly communion were laws to live by. In college, I visited a few charismatic church services where I first heard people speak in tongues, and I loved worshipping at a church in Nairobi, Kenya, where I was for the first time in my life a minority.
Often, I’ve stayed just long enough in each of these communities to learn how to navigate the idiosyncrasies that often come with differing Christian traditions. Thus, it came as a bit of a surprise when I was confronted with perhaps the largest adjustment to married life: entering into the Lutheran tradition. Despite my diverse church background, everything here felt foreign to me: Pastors wearing robes? Baptized babies? Lectionaries and hymnals, and standing and sitting? So much standing and sitting. It felt like a club I wasn’t a part of and wasn’t particularly invited to. Like I said, if you’ve been on the outside looking into a tradition, you know what a lonely place that can be.
I now find myself completely immersed in and captivated by the Lutheran faith. The assurance and comfort I’ve found in the words of the liturgy, the grace offered in the sacraments and the preaching of Christ crucified for you is truly the most beautiful message on earth. I feel at home in the divine service. I look forward to confession and the words of absolution. I love that I am reminded weekly through the preached word that although a sinner through and through, I have been made a saint on account of Christ. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, I’ve found my room in the Christian house.
Yet I’m not convinced the only way for others to join us in our room is by marrying into it. I know mine is not the only experience, and I know many who warmly and hospitably invite others into this tradition with open arms, patience, and understanding. Yet I also know that I am not alone when it comes to being either completely unaware of Lutheran doctrine or entirely intimidated by it.
Not One for Insider Language
During his time at the Wartburg Castle, Luther wrote to Melanchthon to remind him of the need to not limit the preaching of the Gospel to Wittenberg due to the high concentration of preachers there.
“Look at how big a harvest there is everywhere – and how few are the harvesters! You are all harvesters. Certainly we have to consider not ourselves but our brethren who are spread out all over the country, lest we live for ourselves, that is, for the devil and not for Christ.”
Luther worked to not only spread the message of the Gospel but to do so in a way that all people could understand. He wrote the Small Catechism to make difficult theological ideas practical in the day-to-day. He translated the Bible into German. He advocated for church education of both pastors and laypeople. If there is anyone against insider language, it's Luther.
The interesting part about harvest is the tension between protecting the crop and distributing it evenly. While Lutherans are quick to protect the Gospel at all costs, distributing it in a way that reaches the ears and hearts of those outside the tradition presents a more difficult a task. The task of continually reminding ourselves that tradition should point us to Christ and thus adherence to tradition must not become a means by which we live for ourselves or a means of law-measuring self-righteousness.
It is good that ours is a tradition that stands out from so many others: one that recognizes the depths of human sin, the perfection of God’s law, and the limitlessness of God’s grace. For this I am thankful. But standing firm in the confession we share does not exclude us from inviting others into it. Not wavering on the importance and magnitude of the Gospel does not exclude proclaiming it in a way people can understand.
The only way to make foreign traditions known is to invite people into them. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable and sometimes it makes things a bit messy. There may even be questions or misunderstandings, but that shouldn’t disqualify anyone from receiving an invitation to hear the Gospel.
A disinterest in adjusting the way we proclaim the good news of Christ for you and for me is to withhold Christ’s Gospel from the ears of sinners. This does no one—neither the larger Christian house, those of us already in our chosen room, nor the lonely sojourners still searching for a warm hearth and good couch—any good.
Let’s be a group that joyfully ushers others into the rhythms of our traditions, not one that shuts the doors and hides the keys from people. Let’s be a family willing to make the newcomer feel right at home, remembering that none of us have found our way here on our own. Thanks be to God that Christ continues to hold fast to us even when we are rude and unwelcoming, and thanks be to God that the hospitality of Christ means all are welcome. Let us not shy away from making more room at the table.