This post is part one of a three-part series on the importance of feasting and celebrating our faith in community.
“And this is our sweets table”, Ruth Ellen told me during my tour of the office for the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church. Later that day I was warned, “Have they shown you the sweets table? Steer clear of it. Only bad can come from it.” While I am sure they meant well for both my heart and my waistline, I began to think about our desire to share food with others as a way to build relationship and celebrate our days.
If you grew up like me, then you are aware of the wonderfully divine ritual that is cake and ice cream. They are the quintessential PB&J of “I’m celebrating something,” C&IC if you will. I mean seriously, how many birthday parties have you attended where either one or both of those items were present? (If they weren’t, then I’m sorry. They even make cakes out of watermelon today, so, no excuse for you!) Our desire to celebrate is directly linked to food and fellowship.
Something has happened to our culture, and “celebrating” became a verb reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Celebrating is more than a chance for a day off work and school or an opportunity to blow up balloons and eat cake; celebration is an act of worship. Throughout Scripture, there is an honest and deliberate connection between feasting and celebrating in community which beckons me to wonder, “what if celebrating didn’t just include outward, occasional expressions. What if the act of celebrating and feasting together was meant to be a daily expression of an inward desire, where celebration doesn’t become another event but rather, a part of who we are as the body of Christ?”
A quick Google search will tell you that some popular definitions of the word “celebration” are:
• “the action of marking one’s pleasure at an important event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social activity”,
• “to publicly acknowledge (a significant or happy day or event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social, activity.”
I hope you caught this – we were not meant to celebrate alone, celebration is, at its core, a social activity! The very definition of celebration calls us to gather, talk, savor, sip, and commune with one another as a way of marking something as significant.
One example of celebrating in community can be found in the book of Nehemiah. In chapter 8, Ezra, the priest, is coming before other believers who have gathered to hear Ezra read scripture in their town square. While scripture was read, the people began to weep as the word of God was revealed before them. Seeing this, Ezra, Nehemiah, and other Levites said in vs. 9 “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” Then in vs. 10 Nehemiah instructs the people saying, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The people went away to celebrate because the word of God had been made clear to them. They were celebrating as an act of worship and thanksgiving. It was a physical act of “Amen.” Celebration is an act of worship only when we are thankful, and when it is shared in community with one another.
So what does celebration look like every day for you and me? Does this mean you should have a fancy dinner party for 40 of your closest friends or eat large feasts every day? (which, by the way, could be considered gluttony). While I always encourage an opportunity to eat cake, I believe there are alternative ways we can choose to celebrate. We don’t need a cake, 12 pounds of sugar, balloons and streamers to celebrate every day. There are times for cake, but there are also times for just plain fun with people. We can choose to find little acts of “amen” that allow us to give thanks to God for this full and rich life we get to live. Celebration is a natural rhythm of our heart, yet we tend to suppress this act of worship, reserving it for special days even though God calls us to live it out every day in our lives and in our relationships with one another. So what are we to do?
Here are 3 tips for celebrating every day:
- Remember with thanksgiving. Without gratitude, our celebration ceases to become worship. It is a vital part of remembering what God has done and what He will do, regardless of situation or outcome.
- Create a ritual for celebration (this can be unique to your heart and your family) – go out to dinner for good report cards, turn on your favorite song, crank it up, and sing at the top of you lungs, play a game, have an unplanned sleepover with your best friends, run, jump, dance, whatever you do, do one small thing a day that brings about the response “thank you Lord for the life you have given me.”
- Include others in your celebration. As we were created for relationship, the richest way to celebrate well is to do so with others.
When our perspective of celebration and feasting together in community changes from an occasional “big” event to an inward daily posture, something divine happens. We are able to give thanks to a God who gave us life, who gives us beautiful sunrises as well as creepy-looking storm clouds. We are able to celebrate with complete joy when life shouts an emphatic “Yes!” and when it seems the world is doing everything in its power to scream expletives at us. For me, celebrating does include food because God created me to love baking (sometimes healthy and sometimes not), and being in the kitchen makes me say, “It is well with my soul”. This also means I am not enjoying these sometimes daily treats alone. I am to share in community with my family or my friends and neighbors. Maybe for you, celebrating doesn’t include special foods, but instead, you celebrate by having a random dance party in your kitchen or playing a new game with your kids. Whatever you decide to do, don’t just sit still waiting for a time to celebrate. This is the day that the Lord has made! Let’s rejoice today and every day, as often as we can! In this life there is much to celebrate, even when we don’t feel like it. What I’ve come to learn is that a heart that celebrates well is one that has open eyes and a thankful heart and that celebrating, like cake and ice cream, is always better when we are together.
Image attribution: MSPhotographic / Thinkstock