We’re doing a study this fall at our church based on Richard Foster’s book The Celebration of Discipline. I have enjoyed taking a fresh look at some of the ancient pathways to becoming more intimate with Christ. These are challenging and helpful reflections on what it means to live the Christian life.
I had forgotten that one of the disciplines is actually celebration, something that I could definitely use a refresher course in…regularly.
The problem with celebration is that it isn’t practical. I have a very practical mind and I can’t justify doing things just for fun.
Fun, if you really think about it, doesn’t accomplish much. But it is very necessary for our health and well-being, so much so that God makes a big deal of it.
This thought of course brings me back to the fact that worship is meant to be a celebration. I don’t mean that we have to sing happy songs and clap all the time, but rather that it is the nature of worship to be celebratory. Let me tell you what I mean.
According to “Grandpa Bob” (Bob Webber), celebration has three distinct qualities: (1) it is rooted in a past event, (2) it makes that event contemporaneous (brings it from the past into the living present), and (3) it is memorialized with stories, songs, ritual actions and feasting.
I think this is an extremely helpful way to think about celebration. Think about it: what do we do at Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays with family? We remember an event, we bring the essence of that event into our moments together, and we celebrate through telling stories, performing rituals (singing certain songs, making certain types of food or giving gifts) and we have special above-average quality (and quantity) of food. This is what it means to celebrate.
Worship, then, qualifies as a true celebratory act because it meets all of these criteria. In worship we remember a specific event, namely Christ’s salvation and victory accomplished in his death, burial and resurrection. Worship is always rooted in an event, whether it be deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Old Testament worship) or deliverance from slavery to sin (New Testament worship).
In worship we tell the story again of Redemption in various ways: through song, personal testimony (story) and the proclamation of the Word of God. This telling of the story brings the reality of God’s actions into the present once again, making his story a part of our experience not just our intellectual knowledge. “Worship does God’s story” as Webber put it, and we celebrate God’s story in worship.
Finally, worship is memorialized through rituals. It isn’t by accident that we partake of the Lord’s Supper together in worship, because it is one of the actions that Christ has given to reenact the drama of the gospel. We celebrate the gift of Jesus when we feast with him at his table, not only in memory of his sacrifice but in anticipation of his heavenly Kingdom and the wedding feast of the Lamb in the age to come.
As I reflect on these things, it helps me to appreciate what worship is meant to be and do in my heart and in my life. But it also helps to bring a different perspective into the other celebrations in my life. As humans we need celebration, we need laughter and we need ritual and we need to be bonded together in a community that remembers. When we gather to celebrate life, birth, death, or anniversaries, or just our bond of friendship it’s more than just an excuse to eat cake or have a drink or buy someone a present. It is part of the fabric of who we are, an essential component of what it means to live life as God intended. Together.
As you reflect on thee things, I hope you will worship with an attitude of celebration and celebrate with an attitude of worship, knowing that God has made us to worship and thus has made us to celebrate – that our joy may be full and his glory may be displayed.