The Purpose of Ceremony: Eyes Front!
I’m generally impressed, and grateful, for the comments that are sent in to this blog. They are usually always thoughtful, intelligent and well reasoned, along with being cordial and gracious. Sure, there are a few exceptions, from time to time, but that’s why God created the "delete" key in blogging software. And then there are comments that come in that I find so impressive that truly deserve their own separate posts. Here is one of them. Thanks Mike.
As an Army soldier I cannot and will not speak for Marines, but formality and practiced precision go deeper than our close association with death. As one who performs funeral honors frequently, I can tell you that the military bearing is a sign of my honor to the departed and their family. That is the motivation and focus as we practice and prepare.
As a superior once told me, "That man up front spent his entire life serving others. The least you can do is serve his widow for an hour on Saturday." That has stuck with me. No better place is this sentiment shown than at Arlington, where men march the exact same 21 steps and pause at 21 second intervals in all weather 24 hours a day 365 days a year for long dead heroes we can’t even name and most Americans never visit.
My hat off to you for correctly identifying this as an object lesson for the spirit of the liturgy: humility and deference when confronted with someone else’s sacrifice – not our own.
The focus on the ritual directs our focus to the things that truly matter.. it points us to the things that we would overlook if we did not observe the ceremony. It is never about the ceremony itself. The ceremony is a tool that pulls our attention away from ourselves and forces us to face objective reality apart from our personal situation.
No honor guard ever serves at a funeral out of personal pride in the merit of his bearing and training. The service, the ritual, the "liturgy" that we follow is done to communicate our heartfelt gratitude and respect. To take away proper ceremony is to divorce an act of proper respect. In the minds of most (including my Drill Sergeants back at Basic), you cannot separate ceremony and respect because ceremony IS respect. The two are linked so closely that where ceremony is lacking, respect will be also.
One always effects the other. For the military, ceremony and respect are linked. For the church, we prefer to see it in terms of practice and doctrine.
The amazing parallels between being a Soldier and being a Christian are too many to identify in this post so I will just touch on a few of them. Certainly St. Paul identified it: we are both at war against a deadly enemy and alone we cannot hope to win. Preparation, unity, ceremony, and repetition are tools to accomplish the task of victory. The necessary death of the old life so that a new life can be made. The consequences for a lack of vigilance is certain death. As a Soldier, I desperately cling to my training. As a Christian, I desperately cling to the cross.
Maybe this is why the US Army saw the importance of formulating a common creed and requiring that it be memorized by all recruits.