• Dennis Richards

Why keep 'Festivals'?

One of the highlights for me each year, and something I always thought special, approaching unique, in our church is our annual festival. But why keep it? We don’t have to, so why value it?

I am currently re-reading Philip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” In an early chapter discussing “The New Math of Grace” (i.e. why it just doesn’t add up in our world) he concludes about our God for whom we can do nothing to make love us more or less, “that I, even I who deserve the opposite, am invited to take my place at the table in God’s family.” Elsewhere he describes this as “God’s banquet table,” an invitation to festival life – abundance of satisfying food and wondrous fellowship with and in him. Physically we may be a meagre lot but spiritually what God offers is amazing.

So yes, I am looking forward to our time together next month. In years past I revelled in the fun and activities we enjoyed, as I hope our children will this year. What I didn’t appreciate all those years ago, that looms much larger on my horizon today, is the community setting of those occasions then. We played and had fun, and all the while older folk looked on and enjoyed. And yes, momentarily we ‘checked in’ with parents and other oldies, but children are self-absorbed and soon rush on, insatiable consumers of enjoyment. But even this is enjoyable to those who only sit and observe, who remember earlier days and past enjoyments. In community there is memory, and in memory there is a hint of a God who loves, and blesses us with family.

But as with all things graciously given, there is no imperative. Indeed, some truly cannot join in the celebrations. For some, age and frailty prohibit it. For others, illness, tragedy, financial constraints, the stresses and pressures of an unfair and oppressing world or the consequences of decisions made long before, mistakes possibly. Some even choose not to come. But even these do not miss out on God’s table, for God’s grace is with them fully as much as for those who gather. Indeed, those who cannot come are often like those oldies watching the children at play, willing them on, praying for them, concerned about them, loving them. And patiently awaiting our breathless ‘reports’ of what we’ve been up to.

While festivals may be and should be wonderful occasions as opportunities of grace, their fruit, the marks of graciousness, rest fully upon our intentions. We reap what we sow, receiving what we mean to receive. But even the laws of physics tell us that movement has a cause. Festivals therefore function on giving more than receiving; it is more blessed to give than receive, Jesus said. The hand may give but it is the heart that is the true giver … and receiver, as it happens. In the festivals I am reminded that I am invited to God’s banquet table, to share with you what God gives us, and has long given, and in that setting to rejoice, be glad, and give heartfelt thanks. Festivals hold out a vision of communities under blessing.

At its heart, festivals are for me a space, carved out of our busyness, in which to enjoy God. Spiritual food is part of it, but truly not the most significant. Over above that is fellowship, with God directly and also indirectly (in us). We may be spiritual children in this age and our enjoying may be more playful than meaningful, but out of it we learn community and sharing and loving. Graciousness. And beyond that again, one day, eventually, communion – souls and spirits so entangled, joined and merged together that to know the one is to know immediately all there is to know about the other.

Festivals may only be the merest of shadows of true, full, God-transfused communion, but they picture for me something of what God is drawing us toward and into. This I want to give myself into. And yes, besides compelling, it always has proved fun, a gift of God’s grace and the highlight of my year.

(for graphics, elements have been sourced from www.freepik.com)

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