The Cost of Celebrating: Part I

[Originally published April 8, 2013]

Sometimes when Christians talk about walking by faith we mean choosing to take a step when we have no idea where we’re planting our foot or what’s going to happen when we try to pull the next foot out of the muck behind us and move it forward–except that we’ll probably have mud in our shoes.

This messy faith I know, and I got to thinking about it as we prepared for Easter, that most spectacular day of the Church’s calendar. This particular year Easter included a gorgeous feast of roast lamb for ourselves and six guests, complete with a 10:00 p.m. Saturday trip to the grocery store for a just-in-case-we-run-out bottle of wine and a new bouquet of tulips to replace the wilted ones I’d bought a day too early.

This particular year Easter also included a week of utter chaos and exhaustion, one I am still struggling to recover from as I rest at my sister’s peaceful home for a few days. On Palm Sunday the kids and I came down with yet another bug. I was stuffy and miserable and achy all week long. Miserable or not, I spent nearly 20 hours over the week, mostly during early mornings and late nights, cleaning an empty house for my landlord.

I had this nagging urge to serve spaghetti and brownies for Easter and be done with it. Neither was it only the exhaustion and preposterous schedule that enticed me to scrap all the elaborate plans. The grocery receipts I rang up for that meal were ridiculous and full of foods I never buy: fine fresh cheeses and meat way over $4/lb. And so much butter.

It felt like foolish extravagance of time and money to mark Christ’s most glorious work in this way, to surround ourselves with our friends and to feed them like royalty to boot. But I couldn’t put the words of Moses out of my head as I argued with myself over all this absurdity. In Deuteronomy 14, he conveys God’s instructions to His people regarding the tithe, requiring them to spend the money (if they weren’t able to travel to celebrate at the tabernacle) on “whatever you desire–oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves.”

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God’s people are called to be a celebrating people. No doubt in lean years and among the poor, they faced the temptation to hoard that tithe for their emergency fund or health savings account; to do the prudent thing. I found myself thankful for God’s gracious, explicit commandment to throw that prudence to the wind when the occasion is right and to celebrate before Him.

So I rolled up my sleeves and mustered all the faith and joy I could find. I laughed off the $200 grocery receipt. I ironed the white linen napkins. I burned the midnight oil and I dragged my babies to church at 7:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday.

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And now I am recovering, on one hand, and so is my credit card. On the other hand, I am refreshed: filled up by that joy and faith and hubbub; that week when we worked as hard as we could so we’d have something to celebrate with, to see heaven intruding on earth just a little.

In this hard world it’s not effortless and it doesn’t usually seem sensible, but it is good, so good. And in the next world it will be all that’s left.

Christ Has Died.

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Christ Is Risen.

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Christ Will Come Again.

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Christ’s Companionship: Lenten Thoughts on Transfiguration Sunday

I remember a professor in seminary impressing on us over and over again “Heaven is wherever Jesus is.”

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration. How desperately we need that story! Nor do we want to come down the mountain at the end. If only we could secure ourselves in Jesus’ divine presence permanently!

Here is a glad wonder, though: our access to Christ is not, in a way, as limited as Peter, James, and John’s. We have the whole story unfolded. And yet they were allowed his earthly body, a fellowship of human friendship not so easily conjured up from our vantage point. We would not be wrong to crave what they had.

As Lent approaches this year, the need for healing has been foremost in my mind. Every one of us needs healing of some kind. But more than that, isn’t our greatest need simply Christ’s companionship? In fact, is it possible Christ’s companionship is the essence of healing? We need to be in his company.

In this posture of desire and dependence we are ready for the journey of Lent. We call on Christ to come and take up his throne in our hearts; we seek for him to be our teacher so that we might learn how our hearts can be a place he may more easily belong; so that we may more steadily apprehend his presence; so that we may offer him true hospitality–the kind that makes its guest comfortable. This is the project of Lenten discipline.

We do not presume that Christ is in need of this hospitality. But we are, because in that comfort–in that apprehension–every Lenten day of this earthly journey may be its own Transfiguration. And I suspect Christ will not answer us as he answered Peter if, in this transfiguration, we were to say, like Peter did on that mountain, that it is good for us to be here.

It is in Christ’s companionship that we may make our pilgrimage without being overwhelmed by the things which grieve or shake us. Indeed, this companionship is the only thing we need. Christ’s company is enough. To have his presence is life and health and peace.

It is strength, too; we can in fact journey through anything if Christ is our companion, no less surely than Peter could walk on water. Perhaps this is what Paul was trying to convey by his claim: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”