Thursday, May 28, 2009

Holidays and Holy Days

We've just gone through a national holiday (Memorial Day) and we are between two significant days of the Church Year, Ascension and Pentecost. This has caused me to reflect on some of the differences between holidays (popularly understood) and holy days (which are hardly recognized and understood at all (culturally speaking).

Some holidays have their true origin in holy days, but the former has mostly choked out the latter, the prime example being Christmas. The "world" is through with Christmas just as the Church truly welcomes it (which could be a boon for the Church if used strategically).

Holidays are quite transitory. They give brief interruptions of the daily grind, usually offering an excuse (as if our culture needs one) to eat and drink to excess. And while a break in the routine is indeed beneficial for people who are too busy, there is a self-centeredness (at least to me as I look on) to the way our culture uses holidays.

National holidays, when kept with their true focus, can quickly degenerate into self-centeredness through the kind of nationalism that condones a sought-after superiority which essentially dismisses the needs and feelings of much of the world. Yet even national holidays are essentially ignored by a large number of the population and become, I repeat, an indulgent excuse to eat and drink and purchase and "recreate" in excess.

It amazes me the way nationalism invades churches. In my previous free-church tradition, Memorial Weekend would draw specific attention while Pentecost (which often falls on the Sunday of Memorial Weekend) would not even be mentioned! For years I have wondered what an international visitor might think on the Sunday close to July 4 when songs glorifying America are brought into the Church (which is a transnational community of members whose allegiances supposedly transcend the citizenships of this world). Do some people seriously believe that America is the ultimate tangible example of Christian Faith?

I found great delight this year in the celebration of Ascension. How wonderful it is that Jesus has taken His humanity into heaven and thus prepared the way for all who follow Him. There is a tangible reason to seek the things that are above. It is because that is where Christ is, and Christians are "in Him" (see Colossians 3).

Pentecost ranks along with Christmas and Easter. The purpose and meaning of the birth and resurrection of Christ are found in the birth of the Church and the indwelling of the Spirit in each person who belongs to Christ (see Romans 8:9-11).

Holidays (as such) come and go. Holy days draw us into and help prepare us for what will not pass away. Rejoice in the Lord always.... but especially on holy days.

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