I exited the season of Lent somewhat downtrodden and guilt-ridden. I had tried to give up sugar and failed miserably. Not only was I beating myself up and feeling bad every time I slipped a few spoonfuls of ice cream into my mouth, but I had a friend who would (half-seriously) remind me of how much I was failing. (She was right, of course, but I still felt bad.)
I told my dad halfway through Lent, “I can’t wait for Lent to end so I can stop feeling guilty every time I eat something sweet.”
He said, “You sound like a good Catholic.”
The reality, is, the more I think about it, Christianity often comes off more like that. Like an institution made of restrictive rules and seasons in which we strip away the enjoyable bits of life and favor minimalism and solemnity. And for the past couple centuries, I think the Church has tended to lean that way, in favor of ‘steering clear’ of indulgence and licentiousness.
However, when we look back to the Israelites and even crack open some of the (gasp) Books of Law in the Old Testament, we see numerous laws about celebrations, feasts, and years of Jubilee which the people were commanded to have. They weren’t optional. That’s why God dedicated significant portions of His Word to detailing just how massive and grand these parties needed to be.
God is serious about parties.
He is serious about His times of Lent and solitude as well, but I think that many of us see Him as a more repressive God, bent on eliminating fun and delight from our lives at all costs.
Turns out, He’s not.
I mean, look at how Jesus lived His life! He even attacked the Pharisees for seeing Him as no more than a Greek party boy! (get it?) He said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at this glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”
In other words, we would probably be more likely to mistake Jesus for a frat boy than a serious and mopey ascetic.
So with a little bit of establishment that Jesus loves fun, feasting, and festivities, the next question is Why? Why is it so important for Christians to celebrate? What are we celebrating?
The Israelites believed that when they had their monstrous feasts which would last for days on end, they were foreshadowing the feast which is to come. The eternal party; the heavenly celebration. God knows that human beings are very tangible and tactile, needing physical images and symbols to help us understand things. This is why we get married; to understand the commitment of Christ to us. This is why we physically eat the bread and wine, to remind us that the Spirit of God is also now inside of us.
The feasts and celebrations are the same way: We must celebrate to remind us to look forward. We must celebrate as a reminder of the good things God has already given us. I love How Matt Chandler once described worship being everywhere. He said that sometimes he has better worship times eating a hearty burrito than he does singing songs in church.
I wonder if part of the problem is that we put strict limitations on what worship can be, and have often relegated things that are enjoyable as ‘outside the bounds of worship.’ In other words, if it is enjoyable, it can’t be honoring to God.
While there certainly are indulgent extremes, I think that this impression of God is incredibly toxic. To think that He is against human pleasure and enjoyment is simply ludicrous. He did not create this beautiful world with all of its delicious food only to have us suffer through life by abstaining from it all.
Intentional celebration is a necessary part of the ebb and flow of life. Our liturgy subsists of seasons of fasting and seasons of abundance. To neglect either one is to miss some element of what God has mandated as part of human flourishing.
My roommate and I are throwing a behemoth of a party this Friday (And no, I didn’t write this post just to plug my party…..mostly) and we are beyond excited. Christians and Non-Christians alike will be in our backyard enjoying a bonfire, hot dogs, s’mores, and a myriad of other party essentials. It’s going to be awesome and exhausting.
It’s going to be both a foreshadowing of the coming feast, and a conscious celebration of everything good God has given us in the present.
We must celebrate!
We must celebrate as a means of worshiping a God who made marmots, beef jerky, and Niagara Falls. We must enjoy these things, not out of drudgery or obligation, but because, as John Piper points out, the natural overflow of enjoyment is praise. When we enjoy something greatly, we naturally sing its praises and tell others about it. By celebrating a ‘God from Whom all blessings flow,’ and enjoying His gifts, we honor and praise Him.
We must celebrate!
Because Christianity is not only about suffering and pain, but about a coming party which will never get shut down or grow stale.
We must celebrate as a means of looking both backward and forward.
As a people filled with hope, partying is mandatory.
We must celebrate!
“Rejoice always.” -1 Thessalonians 5:16