This year, my fifty-seventh, marks the first time in my life that I have publicly celebrated all the great days of the church calendar surrounding Easter. These have included Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday (or the Easter Vigil) and Easter Sunday. Then there were the Sundays of Easter and the special celebration on Thursday of this week of Ascension Day. Finally, today (May 28), we celebrated the last (or seventh) Sunday of Easter which took us to the amazing events of Act 1:12-26. Next Sunday (June 4) will be Pentecost Day, a time of great celebration.
I can’t even begin to relate the significance of these celebrations in my life over these many weeks. I feel as if the realities of my salvation were brought home to me in a fresh and powerful way that I have never known in the gathering of the church. I can now see, more plainly than ever, why the church has celebrated these events during a special season of the year for well over nineteen hundred years (at least in some cases).
I grew up, and was initially ordained to the ministry, in an evangelical tradition that generally disdained such celebrations, often referring to them as too formal and as “dead liturgy.” I can assure you that such liturgy is not dead. Some of the people who participate in such gatherings may well be spiritually dead but this is definitely not because of such celebrations.
I do find it both ironic and terribly sad that evangelicals reject tradition of this sort but then replace it with contemporary human traditions rooted more in modern culture than in anything remotely connected to the doing, dying and rising of Jesus. I applaud the evangelical’s passion to reach the lost but I am increasingly wary of the a-historical explanations offered for what evangelicals think is important. It reminds me of the insight of the recently deceased Jarsolav Pelikan: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead and traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” I do not believe that you can demonstrate that a Christian is required to celebrate these holy days in the church community but I would ask, “What evidence do you have for celebrating something else, especially when that something else is rooted in marketing and human pleasures that are driven more by modern popular culture than by the Bible?”