You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” (Exodus 12:24-27).
There are three memorials given to Israel as she is leaving Egypt: The Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Consecration of the Firstborn. Each is to be practiced regularly, the Passover and Unleavened Bread annually, and the consecration of the firstborn when the occasion arises. And each is given a specific reason—so that when the children ask what these rituals mean, the father would tell them the story of the Lord delivering them from Egypt. Year by year, again and again, Israel would participate in these rituals—remembering and teaching, remembering and teaching. The Lord would not allow Israel to forget who He was—her deliverer—or who she was—the one the Lord delivered.
Liturgies and rituals can seem like (and can certainly become) matters of rote, devoid of real life. But apparently they are crucial to the ongoing life of the people of God. God did not just tell Israel not to forget, but instituted very specific rituals so they would indeed remember. Rituals were not peripheral to the life of the people of God. They were central. Not because they were the end in and of themselves, but because they pointed to the One who was. The Lord was, and would always remain, the end (the goal) of the people of Israel. Hence the rituals, to be lived into as a community, to be one of the means by which subsequent generations would come to know and trust the Lord.
It really is no different for the church: “and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Cor 11:24). The Eucharist is more than a memorial (a sacrament, but that’s for another day), but not less. For, like the people of Israel, God will not allow us to forget who He is—our deliverer—or who we are—those the Lord has delivered, from sin, in Christ.
There are other rituals as well. The Eucharist service itself is meant to convey what it means to worship God as His children. For instance, it is very intentional that, having heard the Word of God, we confess our sins, make and/or acknowledge peace with one another, and then come to the table as one body in Christ, so that we may partake of the one body of Christ. The order is not just for Sunday mornings, but for life. Sunday by Sunday we live into this truth, and we learn, that we may also live it out Monday through Saturday.
If the liturgies of the church are considered an end unto themselves, they become stagnant and lifeless. But if we participate in them remembering the One to whom they point, they become the great gift they are intended to be—a means of our instruction, and even a means by which we meet God in Christ.