In South Africa, August 9th is celebrated as Women’s Day, commemorating the 1956 march of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the implementation of pass laws. These laws required that South Africans defined as “black” carry an internal passport, which further maintained segregation, controlled urbanization, and managed migrant labor during the apartheid era.
The whole month of August has become a celebration in this country, a remembering of brave women of all races who courageously stood in silence for thirty minutes in a powerful display of unity for equality of race and gender.
Indeed, one of the most poignant purposes of a historical celebration like this is to evoke remembrance and a response, not unlike the Biblical festivals of old.
Throughout Old Testament history, particular feasts and days of celebration were developed as a means of celebrating Israel’s unique relationship with Yahweh. Old Testament festivals were marked by great joy, special offerings and sacrifices, and unique prayers. One such celebration was the annual Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, which God instituted as a way for Israel to remember how he had delivered them out of Egypt, freeing them from slavery. This sacred meal held a distinct purpose and would lead Israel into a renewed sense of gratitude and trust in God.
Similarly, during the Feast of Tabernacles, Israelite families were required to live in tents made of branches of trees, recalling the forty years in the wilderness, and celebrating in gratitude their freedom from slavery. Hanukkah celebrated God’s continued redemption of his people. Purim highlighted the providence of God and his constant care for his people, even while they were living far from the promised land. Celebration was built into the culture of God’s people for the purpose of remembering and responding in renewed faith, not just for the seasons of joy and plenty, but even in the midst of hardship.
In our global era, we have many holidays around the world evoking celebrations of all kinds; yet sadly, few of them are leading us into a spiritual remembrance and response. Even traditionally Christian holidays require a firm kind of perseverance to make them spiritually meaningful amidst many cultural trappings. Not only this, but because we utilize celebrations for happy occasions only, those who are suffering are often loneliest during seasons of Christian holidays. Where have we gone wrong?
Living in South Africa in March 2020, I posted this on my Instagram account:
We are entering lockdown in two days, and it seems to me that celebrations in this time are even more important – yes, the normal birthdays and anniversaries but also, maybe more so, all the little things! Hot cocoa before breakfast? Sure! Fancy dresses for home church? Absolutely! Chocolate cake for lunch? Why not! Though it may not feel like it, we DO have a lot to celebrate, a lot to be thankful for, most of which is our big God whose got this
It’s a far cry from Israel’s celebrations of old, but I am so grateful to God for that moment of clarity, before we began what would end up being nearly two years in varying levels of lockdown. Not only that, but 2021 would be a far more challenging year for our family in nearly every way – so having an albeit simple but working definition of celebration in the midst of hardship has been a gift and a treasure, and it turns out, very Biblical.
Christian celebration is uniquely positioned to welcome those who are filled with joy and those who are filled with sorrow, for it serves to remind us of God’s faithfulness in the past, and to renew our faith for the future. Is it possible to mourn while celebrating? Yes. It is possible to rejoice in God’s faithfulness during a worldwide crisis? Absolutely. Is it possible to come together with brothers and sisters in Christ, acknowledging our individual griefs and joys, and collectively remember God’s goodness to us? Most definitely. Not only are these possible, but I am learning that, for the Christian life, they are essential.
To gather joyfully is indeed a serious affair, for feasting and all enjoyments gratefully taken are, at their hearts acts of war.
In celebrating this feast
we declare that
evil and death,
suffering and loss,
sorrow and tears,
will not have the final word.
All will be well!
Nothing good and right and true will be lost forever. All good things will be restored. Feast and be reminded! Take joy!
And I realized this is it: our gathering together, particularly as believers, recalling God’s faithfulness to us over seasons of joy and harvest, seasons of sorrow and lack, call us to a deeper personal and collective faithfulness in the days and months and years to come. Our celebration, in the midst of hardships, declares to the world that brokenness will not win, not in our lives, not in this world.
So, take joy, dear ones. Celebrate, whether you are in a season of joy or in a season of sorrow, for all will be well!
What small or big things are you celebrating? What helps you remember God’s faithfulness even in the hard times?
Registration for the 2022 Velvet Ashes Online Retreat is open! Join us April 22-24 as we explore the desire for home. Together we’ll journey through the powerful pathway that Solomon’s temple provides for us today. We’ll invite the Holy Spirit to draw our heart’s into deeper connection with God.