Take Time to Celebrate
Take Time to Celebrate
‘A glimpse of heaven’ is how one twenty-seven-year-old woman described her experience of our annual church holiday (Focus). She also described the year she missed it in order to go on an exotic holiday: each day she could only think of how she longed to be at Focus.
This is the time when the whole community comes together in a festival of celebration, worship, thanksgiving and praise. We often experience a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a time of spiritual growth when we listen to visionary and practical teaching from the Bible on how to live our lives. It is a time of laughter and fun as we meet together for a week-long party: playing, picnicking, singing and dancing. We make new friends as well as having a great holiday. It really is ‘a glimpse of heaven’.
Celebration is an important part of life. The people of God in the Old Testament celebrated with regular festivals. One of Jesus’ greatest stories (Luke 15:11–31) was about a huge celebration, when the prodigal son returned and the father said, ‘Let’s have a feast and celebrate’ (v.23).
1. Celebrating God’s goodnessPsalm 66:1-12
Do you sometimes feel like you have been ‘to hell and back’? Have you found yourself ‘pushed to the limit’? It may be that God is training you, like silver being refined in the fire.
This psalm celebrates the fact that God had brought his people through very difficult times:
‘He trained us first,
passed us like silver through refining fires...
pushed us to our very limit,
Road–tested us inside and out,
took us to hell and back;
Finally he brought us
to this well–watered place’ (vv.10–12, MSG).
They did not let this occasion go unmarked. They celebrated. It sounds a fairly noisy affair: ‘All together now – applause for God!’ (v.1, MSG). They sang praise: ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power’ (v.3). They celebrated what God had done (v.5). They rejoiced and praised God in a way that everybody around could hear: ‘Bless our God, O peoples! Give him a thunderous welcome!’ (v.8, MSG).
This is one of the many psalms celebrating God’s goodness. This is what we do every time we come together for worship.
Lord, I celebrate your goodness. I praise you for your great power and all that you have done on my behalf. Thank you that you bring me through fire and water in order to bring me to a place of abundance.
2. Celebrating JesusJohn 12:37-13:17
There are times in our lives when things go well. There are times when things go badly. But there is one thing we can always celebrate: Jesus died and rose again for us. Jesus said, ‘For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it’ (12:47). He said, ‘I have come… so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness’ (v.46).
The context of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is set just before the Passover feast (13:1). There would have been great excitement in the air as hundreds of thousands came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This time of celebration foreshadowed the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we now celebrate at Easter.
When he had finished washing their feet, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ (v.12). What was it all about? What were they to understand? We can see four pictures from the passage:
The act of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet demonstrated the full extent of his love (13:1). This is a very striking contrast to what the world thinks of when people use the word ‘love’. It is far more than a feeling or an emotion; it is a decision to treat people the way that Jesus would treat them (vv.14–15).
The roads of Palestine were un-surfaced and un-cleaned. In dry weather they would have been inches deep in dust. In wet weather they would have been liquid mud.
In a wealthy household, on arrival there would be a bowl at the door. The second lowest slave of the household would untie the sandals. The lowest slave would wash the feet.
Whilst the others are reclining, Jesus gets up, takes off his sleeveless tunic and strips down to a loincloth. Like a slave, he starts washing their feet.
Jesus shows us that if we love people, we will be willing to serve them and that those who serve should always be treated with the greatest respect.
Jesus uniquely combined absolute love (v.1) and absolute power: ‘The Father has put all things under his power’ (v.3a). In love he chose to act in humility and serve his disciples.
Those who seek their own glory (like Judas, v.2) are reduced to nothing. As William Temple put it, ‘When a person stands on their dignity, they usually succeed in squashing it flat.’ Those who exalt themselves are humbled. Those who humble themselves, God will exalt.
The washing and cleansing he is speaking about is not just washing from dirt, but cleansing from sin. Foot-washing is a picture of what Jesus is about to do on the cross for them (v.7). Through Jesus’ death for us you are totally forgiven. Why then does Jesus teach us to pray regularly for forgiveness?
I find the most helpful analogy and picture is the one given here. When Jesus moved to wash Peter’s feet, Peter said, ‘“No, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”’ (v.8). Peter replied, in effect, ‘Well, in that case, wash my whole body.’ Jesus said, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean’ (v.10).
This is a picture of forgiveness. When you put your faith in Jesus you are made totally clean and you are forgiven – everything is dealt with. You do not need to repeat this one-off act of repentance and faith that leads to total forgiveness. It is the equivalent of having a bath, which is enacted in the sacrament of baptism.
However, as we go through the world we do things that tarnish our friendship with God. Your relationship is always secure but your friendship is sullied with the dirt that you pick up on your feet. Each day pray, ‘Lord, forgive me, cleanse me from the dirt.’ You don’t need to have a bath again, Jesus has done that for you, but a measure of cleansing may be necessary every day.
In addition to our great Easter celebration, each week when we gather on the day of the resurrection (Sunday), and every year at Easter, we remember and celebrate these amazing events. Furthermore, every time you receive communion you are celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus for you.
Lord, help us to follow Jesus’ example, not just in words but also in actions. Thank you that washing the disciples’ feet prefigured the crucifixion and our redemption. Thank you that you have given us so much to celebrate.
3. Celebrating success1 Samuel 10:9-12:25
Saul began his reign as king with a honeymoon period. The Spirit of God came upon him in power and he prophesied (10:9–13). God gave him great wisdom in dealing with opposition. He knew when to keep silent (v.27).
Saul soon had to deal with ‘troublemakers’ (v.27). God is in the business of touching human hearts (v.26). But, as always, the Bible is realistic. Troublemakers were around the corner. Wherever God is at work in power expect to find troublemakers as well.
When the people of God were facing appalling cruelty from a man who wanted to gouge out the right eye of every person, ‘the Spirit of God came upon [Saul] in power’ (11:6). God gave him a great victory and he had the wisdom to say afterwards, ‘No one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel’ (v.13). Instead they held ‘a great celebration’ (v.15).
In Samuel’s farewell speech he spoke of how often God has given success to his people when they cried to him for help (12:8,10–11). He urged them to ‘consider what great things he has done for you’ (v.24). Many of these things came about as a result of Samuel’s prayer and he said, ‘As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you’ (v.23).
We are told to pray for one another – and yet we seldom think of not praying for others as a sin, let alone a sin against God. Yet it clearly is. It is so easy to get out of the habit of intercessory prayer by getting so bound up with our own needs and worries.
The passage for today ends with Samuel telling the people to ‘consider what great things he has done for you’ (v.24). The people of Israel were continually looking back at all the good things God had done on their behalf. Whatever else is going on in your life, look back, consider and celebrate creation, the cross and resurrection, your forgiveness, your justification, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the promise of glory and all the other great things he has done for you.
Lord, today I want to look back with thanks and celebrate all the great things you have done for me…
1 Samuel 11:6
‘When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.’
I don’t often think of the Spirit of God coming on someone and bringing anger. I normally think of the Spirit setting people free from anger and bringing joy or peace or deep conviction. But anger against injustice moves us from apathy to action.