Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Philosophy of Celebration (revisited)

As Easter approaches, the philosophy of celebration that our family adopted years ago (that celebrations and the elements in them should point toward worthy historical markers deserving of remembrance) is tested again. This philosophy has, of course, by governing how we celebrate, altered some celebrations for us common to our culture. In some cases, this philosophy has added new celebrations (Reformation Day). In other cases, it has eliminated some altogether (Halloween). It seems, though, that this philosophy is sufficiently counter-cultural that whenever a cultural celebration comes around this conviction gets tested anew.

Examples abound. For Christmas, while we sought to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in a festive and jubilant manner (even remembering St. Nicolas of Myra), the Santa Claus of "Polar Express" doesn't get a seat on our bus. This Easter finds another test approaching. For the life of me, I have never been able to identify a legitimate link between bunnies, eggs and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Oh I understand that churches have used "resurrection eggs" as teaching tools for children's Sunday school. Where did the idea for the eggs come from? Some event in church history? A celebrated theologian from the patristic era or the Reformation that used eggs in his issue-defining treatise? Are fertility symbols appropriate teaching props for the resurrection of the Son of God? Can Yahweh be worshiped with statuettes of Baal?

Admittedly, this conviction can be carried too far, so that one thinks a brand of piano should not be used in church because the same brand was played by Liberace. On the other hand though, this conviction can be conceded too far, so that it is assumed that appropriate Christian training (worship, education, sacraments, etc.) can be supplied with tools from any and all corners of a world that also expresses depravity with gusto as well. Wisdom must be employed, but wisdom is also very difficult.

This difficulty is shown when churches engage the community around them. The community has no great motivation to honor Christ with all elements of its celebrations. Even if the community is "culturally Christian," it has no mandate to reduce its practices down to that which celebrates Christ and his Church. Therefore, the community at large will often hold celebrations that do not conform to a distinctly Christian philosophy of celebration. What is the church to do that wants to "incarnate" into the community, but also has convictions that would seem worthy of maintaining?

As with many practices, attitudes and aspects of the Church, the incarnation of Jesus Christ offers the paradigmatic framework through which to view the problem. Christ was/is both fully God and fully man; fully human and fully divine. None of his deity was sacrificed to take on full humanity, and none of his humanity was marginalized by his deity. Both realities existed fully in him. No contradiction. No blending. No confusion of the natures. He was/is fully God and fully human.

The Church must follow Christ is this way. It is a organism of believers, built by Christ with the "bricks and mortar" that consists of worshipers that the Father seeks. It is fully dedicated to God, and fully dedicated to the world God has created and loves. It is a fully divine institution, and a fully human institution. It is the "body of Christ." Therefore, the Church must execute celebrations that demonstrate its dedication to fidelity to God, but also ones that demonstrate its dedication to the world around. In this way, if the Church does NOT replace its distinctly Christian celebrations with more culturally relevant ones, but engages in both, then perhaps it is more closely following the Christological model. If the church does not replace its distinctly Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ with bunnies and eggs, but engages the surrounding culture when it holds an Easter egg hunt, not only might that work pragmatically for ministry effectiveness, but it actually might be more conforming to the missio Dei.

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