We love to celebrate

Published 11:59 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

by Andrew Book

This week we enjoyed Saint Patrick’s Day, with our favorite way of celebrating rooted in eating and drinking anything we can find that has been colored green. We celebrate regardless of whether we are Irish or have a connection to the saint who led the people of that island to Christ because we simply love to celebrate! As the church, we are in the season of Lent—which is supposed to be a time of prayer, fasting, repentance, and reflection to help prepare us for the celebration of Easter. However, the prayer and fasting are easily overrun by celebration. Some of the biggest parities in the world such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Brazil began as a final celebration before the season of Lent started, and yet today the party continues to grow while the times of reflection and returning to God are often lost.

We love to celebrate, but celebration loses its meaning if we fail to have times of reflection and even sorrow. A party every day very quickly moves from being a party to simply being everyday life, and that is why the best Easter only comes after a time of fasting and reflection. The celebration of new life is most meaningful when we have stared death in the face and learned that death does not get the final word. Easter is a celebration that Jesus has defeated death—but if we fail to look upon his death then we will struggle to truly celebrate Easter!

Today is a perfect example of how we want to rush past sorrow to celebration. Today is “Palm Sunday,” the day when many churches remember Jesus coming into Jerusalem with a crowd surrounding him, cheering for him, and waving palm branches (a way they celebrated victory in Jesus’ time). Jesus deserves to be celebrated, but celebration is not really the story that the Bible tells about Jesus coming to Jerusalem because it is this same crowd that, only a few days later, is shouting “Crucify him!” The same crowd turns their back on him and asks for the release of a murderer. The same crowd comes to watch as the author of life is hung on a cross and gasps his final breath in front of them.

Jesus’ death is not a pretty picture, so we would much rather tell about palm branches and celebration this week, and then jump to the resurrection on Easter Sunday next week. In reality, however, this makes for a cheap celebration. In worship this week at Courtland United Methodist Church, we will be waiving palm branches, but we will also remember that those palms turn quickly into the cross. This coming week is not a time of celebration. Not until Easter Sunday. It is a time of weeping and mourning as Jesus is betrayed, abandoned, mocked, beaten, and finally killed. He is placed in a tomb and everyone thought that death had won. This week is a time for tears and sorrow. When the sun rises on Easter Morning and Jesus steps forth as one who has gone through death and emerged victorious, the celebration will be so much sweeter because we have walked through the sorrow with him.

Ways you can enter the story of the last week before Jesus’ death include part of a worshipping community, – many churches gather for worship on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday; celebrate Easter with a church community. If you are looking for a community to worship with, we would love to have you at Courtland United Methodist Church. We will be having Holy Thursday Family Worship at 6 PM on Thursday to celebrate the Last Supper with a light meal and Holy Communion, followed by time to live out what Jesus taught that night about serving others , followed by Good Friday worship at 7 PM on Friday March 25th. We need those days before Easter Sunday! If you are looking for a place to worship Easter Sunday, we will have Sunrise Worship at Shands Park at 7 a.m. followed by breakfast as well as worship in the sanctuary at 11 a.m. followed by an Easter Egg hunt for kids.

I hope you will grieve this week, because it is only out of grief that we can truly celebrate!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.