Ceremonies are funny things.
Who knows where they got started. One day some guy woke up in the morning and thought “Hey—when someone achieves something, maybe we should make it a big to-do and invite tons of people and…like…give something to the people who achieved something. Yeah. We should totally do that.”
Maybe before medals and diplomas, people gave people rocks. Or taxidermed animal heads. The Greeks gave little crowns of laurel leaves to people who ran the fastest or the longest—or the longest the fastest. If you read The Iliad, they also gave the victors things like cows, chariots—even women (the poor dears). Much, much later, we started giving people who achieved things stuff like metal medallions they could hang around their necks, or metal cups made for decorating and not for drinking out of. Personally, I wish we could have stuck with the practical rewards. A cow will at least keep the grass trimmed. Trophies just gather dust.
And then, of course, there must be a ceremony. You can’t just slap a medal on someone and send them on their merry way. No, you’ve got to gather a bunch of people to watch you slap a medal on someone, shake their hand, congratulate them. Or, for the academic achievers, i.e., anyone who graduates from anything, we give out little pieces of paper printed with formal language in fancy fonts. Broken down like that, a ceremony sounds a little silly.
The same goes for weddings. Finding someone who will put up with your nonsense for the rest of his or her natural life is definitely and achievement. I won’t downplay that. But there’s a lot of seemingly superfluous twaddle that has gotten stuck on to weddings. Yes, vows are important, and having people there is important. But food? Flowers? Fancy clothes? Is that really necessary? You can say the vows—and mean them—in jeans and a t-shirt just as easily as you can in formal wear.
So why? Why do we embellish achievement? Why do we tack tradition onto ceremony?
The only answer I can give will come in its usual anecdotal form. I went to the Anytown Academy graduation today. The children who were freshmen when I was a senior got their diplomas today. The people in the auditorium were mostly parents and grandparents and siblings, with a few cousins and uncles and aunts scattered throughout. We were all there to watch at least one person that we loved be recognized for working hard (or maybe not so hard) for four years to achieve a certain level of smarts, despite the hurdles of familial, interpersonal, mental, or physical difficulties. These kids—18 most of them, a few stragglers in the 17 or 19 slot—walked onto the stage as high school students, and walked off as potential college students. I knew a handful of them—next year, I’ll only know one—but I was proud of every single one of them. High school is stinkin’ hard, people. It’s not as hard as what comes after it, but it’s still stinkin’ hard. And yet, some of those kids stood there with medals on their necks signifying their outstanding performances in grades, specific subject matters, or extracurricular stuff. Extracurricular—that means they did more than they had to survive in high school. Not only did that kid work hard to get good grades, but he worked hard in other areas as well and still came out on top. That’s pretty amazing.
As I was sitting there, applauding my friends, I realized that one day this ceremony might get even more personal than it was when I was graduating, myself. One day, one of those bambinos or bambinas on that stage might share my last name and DNA. One of those graduating seniors might be my graduating senior. One of those kids in blue robes might be my kid in a blue robe. In which case, I don’t care how long the ceremony is, or how long, or how seemingly superfluous—I will be so proud of my kid that I will not care. I will enjoy every minute of it because I would want the world (or at least everyone in the auditorium) to see my kid the way I do—as an awesome, marvelous, one-of-a-kind, fearfully and wonderfully made individual. I will clap very loudly, future child, I promise you.
What’s more, God is all about giving credit where credit is due—He says as much in Romans 13:7. One day, on a day not set into any calendar save the calendar of God’s mind, He will host The World’s Biggest and Longest Awards Ceremony. At this ceremony, He will recognize each of His children for all of the good they have done. He will give each of them eternal homes and trophies that won’t tarnish—trophies that actually mean something. And everyone in the audience will grasp to the fullest extent the difficulty of each person’s journey and the significance of each reward.
Of course, at the end, we’ll hand those rewards back. We know full well that we couldn’t have gotten them without God, anyway. We couldn’t have gotten anywhere without Him.
So it seems there’s a significance in ceremony, after all. Every ceremony is a celebration of the achievements and awards granted by God Himself. That’s nothing to scoff at. Pomp, circumstance, and all.