This blog post was previously published here.
Jesus knew the truth that what we celebrate matters. Shortly before his death Jesus instructed his disciples to remember his death through a simple meal. (Luke 22:14-20) I imagine that without this instruction the disciple may have decided to celebrate other aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Earlier the apostle Peter had wanted to construct shelters to memorialise the spectacular event of Moses and Elijah appearing and talking with Jesus. Other disciples could easily have chosen to celebrate Jesus healing ministry or concern for the poor.
How would the history of Christianity differ today if the first followers of Jesus decided to politicise His criticism of the religious establishment? Would they have sought revenge against the pagan Romans? Would they have sought to initiate an uprising and seize control of the temple, freeing it from apostate religious leaders?
Instead, Jesus preempts these possibilities by establishing a celebration of his death and his resurrection. This move required the first Christians to pursue understanding of his death. Why did it happen? Do you remember what he said? Do the Hebrew Scriptures speak of a resurrected Messiah? How does this impact us? Does this change our relationship with God?
The simple meal. The memory. The celebration. The understanding. Jesus directed the focus of future generations for thousands of years to the thoughts that are most important.
Our churches still face the same opportunities. In addition to the Lord’s Supper, we get to decide what and who to celebrate.
I once visited a church and watched an elder call every one 18 and under who had a birthday that month to the front of the room. As they stood on the stage with him he prayed over those children. What an affirmation that these children matter to God and to the church!
I know of a church that hosts a VBS each year for special needs children. This event shines the spotlight of love and grace upon these children and their families, letting them know that they’re valued and important.
Last October, the church a friend of mine attends encouraged everyone to wear purple one particular Sunday in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This topic seldom receives attention from churches and this congregation sought to publicly stand with victims of abuse.
I recently saw a church workshop advertised with the theme, “Reprove, Rebuke, & Exhort”. This celebration clearly communicates what matters to them: Reproving and Rebuking. Getting things right. Doing things right.
I’m aware of many churches that have special “Mission Sundays” or “Ministry Fairs” as they highlight the need to send and support missionaries around the world, or the importance for members to involve themselves in church ministries.
Each of these churches chose to express issues, topics, causes, and people that they view as important through celebration.
It would be overly simplistic to infer that the reverse is true. Just because a church does not celebrate a particular cause or person does not mean that they don’t care. No one church can emphasise every issue. If they try to acknowledge everyone, eventually no person or cause is particularly special because everyone’s treated the same.
Which brings us back to where I began: What we celebrate matters!
With this in mind, I’m thrilled that my church celebrated our racial diversity last Sunday through a special day that we call Harmony Sunday. I’ve been part of multi-ethnic churches in the past who preferred not to acknowledge their diversity. Taking one day to celebrate the reality we see each Sunday communicates to the church and the community that each person matters. It reinforces God’s vision for his kingdom as a house for all nations. And most of all, it communicates that this topic is important, not an accident.
I am convinced that events like Harmony Sunday are vital for the good health of multi-ethnic congregations and those seeking to broaden their membership. Among many other benefits, this type of celebration gives permission for conversations about race to take place. It communicates a desire for the church to provide a safe place for dialogue.