When would you say you last celebrated?
Feasting and celebration are deeply biblical values. And Jews have continued to model this even through the darkest parts of their history. Even in the midst of the holocaust the Jews found ways to continue to celebrate the Sabbath – and many of them found that it helped them to maintain courage even in the concentration camps.
And yet we seem to have lost the ability to celebrate well. Richard Foster (who’s chapter on celebration on his book ‘The Celebration of Discipline’ I would recommend to anyone wanting to get better at this discipline) observes that:
“The carefree spirit of joyous festivity is absent in contemporary society. Apathy, even melancholy, dominates the times. Harvey Cox says that modern man has been pressed ‘so hard towards useful work and rational calculation he has all but forgotten the joy of ecstatic celebration…’”
Only 3% of those that responded to my survey about the Sabbath said they felt celebratory every or almost every week – and yet this is such a key part of the Sabbath. This isn’t to downplay the role of lamenting. But on the Sabbath we feast as we get a foretaste of what heaven will be like. Marva Dawn describes the day like this:
“Sabbath keeping is not a dry duty or an oppressive obligation. It is a delight, a feasting on that which is eternal rather than a scrambling after the short-lived success, the amassed wealth, the ceaseless activities, the elegant refinement that people think will grant them permanent happiness… To keep the Sabbath enables us to become more and more a Sabbath people, and that characterization affects the way we relate to everything else in our lives.”
Do we want to become this people? Do we want our Sabbath’s to overflow into the other 6 days? Then we need to learn to feast and celebrate. I loved this definition of celebration:
“Celebration is the honouring of that which we hold most dear. Celebration is delighting in that which tells us who we are. Celebration is taking the time to cherish each other. Celebration is returning with open arms and thankful hearts to our Maker.” – Sara Wenger Shenk, Why Not Celebrate!
In order for this to happen we have to prepare for the day – like we would for a birthday or Christmas – we need to find ways to make it special. Dan Allender describes it as a special day because it is the day when we have time to do the fun things in life that get given very little time on other days, he says Sabbath is the day:
“…where we feast, play, dance, have sex, sing, pray, laugh, tell stories, read, paint, walk, and watch creation in its fullness.”
What habits can we develop to make the Sabbath a special day? It may be prioritising fun activities like those that Dan Allender talked about. It may be making special preparations and objects for the day: a special tablecloth or candles, cooking special food, inviting guests, reflecting on the past week together, giving thanks, praying, reading a Bible story, a special notebook or craft set, special books – the possibilities are endless!
You may think – but I haven’t got the resources to make these things happen. Several writers caution that Sabbath feasting isn’t about gluttony, but about saving special food and other things for the Sabbath – and that actually what that often asks of us is living more simply the other 6 days, in order to make the Sabbath special. If the Jews managed in concentration camps – we can make it special here today.
If you count the days from the first to the last day of lent it is more than 40 – the reason? Because traditionally people didn’t fast from anything on the Sundays – because Sunday was a day for celebration – regardless of what season of the year, or of life, they were in. A day for celebrating God and his provision for us, and to celebrate our hope in His coming Kingdom. But it also stops us thinking that it’s through our works, or our fasting alone that we get stuff done – our discipline is important – but we always need reminding that all of our effort comes from a place of trusting in and celebrating God and his work first. And God knew that we needed that reminder, weekly – so he gave us the Sabbath.
Let’s be a people that enjoy His gift to us!
Next week I will finish this Sabbath series with a story of what the kids and I did yesterday – and how it further convinced me that God knew what he was doing when he told us we needed a Sabbath each week!