The passing of Ronald Reagan is important on a number of levels. Commentators have noted everything from the impact on the current election, to legacy of Reagan’s anti-communism. There is much to add on all this, but in the current context I simply want to note one thing. This is coming from someone who voted for Reagan both times, but who wishes that even principled conservatives like Reagan had been more explicit about the need to turn the idolatrous state around (as in, repentance) and not just to slow it down. I am glad he slowed it down, and I am glad that the Wall came down, and I glad for other contributions as well. But all the same, the need for basic civic repentance remains. We are farther down the wrong road than we were when Reagan left office. The car of state is careening toward the cliff, and we have these periodic electoral debates. The Democrats want to stay the course at eighty miles an hour, while the Republicans want to go sixty. The really conservative Republicans, the rabid nutcases, want to go fifty. Those of us who are bound and gagged in the trunk are grateful when the Republicans are behind the wheel, for it buys us a little more time as we try to get loose, and get the trunk open. I am convinced that Reagan genuinely wanted to turn the car around, but he only succeeded in slowing it down.
The comment I want to make here concerns that which is before us right now, as we consider the funeral and the events surrounding the funeral. The events of the last week have shown us (in the civil realm) the potency of symbols and the power of liturgy. Ideas are important, and ideas have consequences. But liturgy has consequences also. Liturgy moves people, and it is not an irrational and emotional display when it does so. In many ways, and on many levels, Reagan was a class act. How he has left us has been no exception. This has been a grand example of what C.S. Lewis described with the Middle English word solempne – a joyful and august solemnity.
The striking thing about this is that it represents the polar opposite of most worship in most evangelical and Reformed churches.