For all of the awful things COVID has caused, I’m thankful for one small thing: the increase of churches livestreaming their services. I have been able to watch my friends from seminary preach, something that I couldn’t have done prior to the pandemic. I’ve also been able to catch the sermons of clergy colleagues I admire. This week, I caught a clip of Rev. Matt Rawle’s sermon on the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I haven’t thought about this story in the same way since.
I don’t have a transcript of his sermon to quote from verbatim, but I’ll do my best to paraphrase it here. Rev. Rawle said that only one thing was imperative in the whole story. The younger son didn’t have to ask for his inheritance. He didn’t have to squander the money and return home with his tail between his legs. The father didn’t have to give the younger boy his inheritance at all, and the elder brother didn’t need to smolder with resentment over the party the father threw. But one thing was necessary. The father said, “We had to celebrate.” When your younger son returns, when he has been found after being lost for so long, what other choice is there?
Celebration is a holy rhythm, part of the sacred pulse God gives us that invites us to dance. Yet, so often we see celebration as frivolous. We might be angry like the brother of the prodigal son because the party seems wasteful on one who had been so foolish with the father’s money. Or, we might simply think celebration is a waste of time. Sure, celebrate the big things like a graduation, a marriage, the purchasing of a new home, but anything beyond that is too extravagant. But, is it really?
God punctuated every day of creation with appreciation and celebration. “God saw that it was good.”
Jesus made sure that the wine wouldn’t run out at the wedding party of a couple in Cana.
A woman celebrates with the neighborhood when she finds a missing coin.
David danced in praise before God and made a fool of himself while doing it.
The psalmists overflowed with celebration and praise as they penned words of worship to God.
Jesus left his disciples with a meal as the way to remember him until he returned.
Celebration–just like love, generosity, compassion, and sacrifice–can be a spiritual act of worship, and a way for the light to break into this world. Try it out today. Make space to celebrate something. Sit back and appreciate a job well done. Celebrate someone else, too. Did your barista make your coffee particularly well today? Let them know. And then let’s see how the light squeezes in and illuminates the world.
Reader 1: God created a world with delightful and joyful things in it, but sometimes we get so busy that we don’t pause to notice them. Other times, we feel buried under the weight of all of the difficult things in the news, and we struggle to celebrate.
Reader 2: In a letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Reader 1: Paul did not write this to shame us for feeling sad, angry, or burdened. Sometimes, we need to feel those things. Sometimes they are the most appropriate response we can give in the face of the struggles of our lives and the world. Paul intended these words as an encouragement to look for what is good, and to find opportunities for gratitude and celebration because these things help renew our weary spirits.
Reader 2: In those moments when we cannot turn away from the burdens of life, we are invited to bring them to Jesus and to turn our minds to the ultimate good – God, who never stops loving us. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Reader 1: What is bringing you joy today? What is delighting you? Where are you seeing what is good, what is pleasing, and what is worthy of praise? <light candle at this time>
Reader 2: May we find the joy of celebration in the most unexpected of places, for appreciation is one of many ways we can give praise to the God who made it all.
God of joy and wonder, you showed us the rhythm of celebration as you created the world. You paused and said that it was good. Indeed it was very good. Help us to rediscover delight and celebration in our own lives, one moment of appreciation at a time. Amen.
Other posts in the Lengthening the Light series