Red, white and boom – Americans enjoyed great firework shows on the 4th of July. One of the largest firework displays was held in New York City and included over 40,000 exploding shells with millions of spectators in person and online as the United States celebrated its 237th birthday. As a culture, we love to celebrate.
What do our celebrations say about the things we value?
As a nation we value independence and freedom – so we celebrate July 4th with firework displays. We value athletic superiority and throw parades for teams who are crowned champions and hail as heroes Olympic gold medalists. We value a daring spirit and devote hours of media programming to those who attempt the unbelievable such as successfully walking across the Grand Canyon on a tight rope or free-falling from outer space. Not all of our celebrations are as grand as July 4th – we celebrate anniversaries with cards, birthdays with candles, and even “participation” with ribbons.
Our celebrations give us an opportunity to remember, honor, and share in the victory. Celebrations tell a story, teach about what we value, and help create community.
What are some of the things your church or ministries have celebrated and what do those things say about what your community of faith values?
In Exodus 12 the Israelites were directed to commemorate with a celebration their salvation from the plague of death with the Passover Feast and their deliverance from bondage in Egypt with the Festival of Unleavened Bread: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance” (v. 14, NIV). These festivals continue today as continuing generations learn of God’s grace through celebration!
As a little girl I remember services when people would stand to their feet and share stories of deliverance, salvation, repentance, and sustaining grace. These times of testimony became moments of celebration that helped us remember God’s faithfulness and celebrate His work. They also became instruments of teaching and forging of community.
Many of us have moved away from the Sunday night testimony service, but there are still many reasons to celebrate and a variety of ways to celebrate. Like the Israelites do you celebrate freedom from bondage and deliverance from the plague of death? Do you celebrate new life in Christ, commitments to faith, milestones in spiritual formation, and spiritual victories? Like the testimony services of old do you celebrate sustaining grace, physical healings, and demonstrations of the Spirit’s power? Are baptisms, first communions, births, new memberships, and answers to the call more than just responses on annual reports but opportunities to celebrate, commemorate, and teach?
Our celebrations give us an opportunity to remember, honor, teach, and form. Together we honor what God has done in our past, rejoice over what He is doing in our present, and anticipate what He will do in our future.
As we look forward to a year filled with grace, victory, and hope what are the things we should be celebrating and how should we celebrate so that all the generations including those yet to come will put their trust in the Lord?
Dr. Colleen Derr is Associate Professor of Congregational Formation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University.