A Christian friend from another church once stayed over for the Easter period. For Easter Sunday he insisted on providing a chicken and champagne dinner. I, half-jokingly, questioned his extravagance and suggested it was nice enough to have his company without him “lashing out” in this way to make it a memorable occasion. He quickly insisted that this “extravagance” wasn’t to make his visit more memorable but rather that it was in memory of the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ. He felt that a chicken and champagne dinner was THE way to celebrate the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
There is something deep within my Calvinistic upbringing that reacts against such an excessive display of extravagant enthusiasm. In fact something inside me somewhere even finds a lot of sympathy for the interpretation of the “regulative principle” that leads some reformed folk to ignore the “church calendar” altogether. No Christmas or Easter celebrations for such people at all. In some reformational churches no special worship services are held on those special occasions.
When I look at the crass commercialism that surrounds these feast days in our society then part of me says: Let’s just forget about everything except our usual Sunday services. But there is another side to it. Scripture constantly calls on God’s people to celebrate His saving deeds. Read through the Old Testament and we so easily pick up all the negative things that we commonly associate with the old dispensation. But read carefully and you’ll pick up a lot of positive things as well. There were all the Old Testament feast days – the highlights of the year for God’s covenant people of old.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Lord wanted His people to celebrate – and then especially His saving deeds in history. The book of Exodus approvingly records the spontaneous song and dance reaction to the crossing of the Red Sea. In a more formal way the Passover was instituted as the Old Testament sacramental equivalent to the Lord’s Supper celebration. However that isn’t the end of it. We should not overlook that the Passover was only one of three annual festivals. Another one was the “Feast of Tabernacles” – a harvest thanksgiving celebration that reads like a seven day long party. On a more solemn note there was the “Day of Atonement” for fasting and sacrifice. Later a fourth annual feast day was added to remember the deliverance at the time of Esther, the “Feast of Purim”, which was a celebratory day of feasting and gladness.
The Psalms give us some further insights into the joy-filled celebrations of the people of God. In Psalms such as the 126th such “joyful shouting” is especially done in the context of the reality that “the Lord has done great things for us”. Of course all this happened too in the context of “holy convocations” – Israel gathering in God’s presence for worship.
I would be the last to want to blur the distinctions between old and new testaments. Nevertheless when I read all these things I am left with an important question: Should the New Testament saints be any less celebratory in their response to the even more wonderful works that God has done for us in Jesus Christ?
I’ve learnt to be thankful for the fact that once a year I, together with the rest of God’s people, can pay special attention to God’s New Testament deeds of salvation. Of course I may and must focus every day of my life on the reality that Jesus brought the great sacrifice for me – and then especially on Sundays in worship and in the sacraments. Yet I’ve come to appreciate some special days in the year when I especially enjoy the freedom to celebrate that exhilarating reality that Jesus conquered sin, Satan and death.
Maybe chicken and champagne on Easter Sunday isn’t such a bad idea after all.