Nehemiah 8:9-12, 12:27-43 and 13:15-22
Dallas Willard, in his incredibly helpful “Spirit of the Disciplines”, states that “[Celebration] is one of the most important disciplines of engagement… It is the completion of worship… We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty and goodness. We concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us.”
In Ezra we see this discipline in action as the people celebrate the laying of the foundation for the rebuilding of the temple. Similarly, in Nehemiah we see celebration in action both when the people read the law and when they dedicate the rebuilt wall. In all of these instances the discipline of celebration involved getting together with people (this is a communal, not solitary, discipline), loudly praising God with music, food, drink and the sharing of all of these things.
Sabbath-keeping as a spiritual discipline is closely related to the discipline of celebration. Keeping the Sabbath is actually commanded, as it is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. We tend to define Sabbath keeping negatively, as in it is about not working, but scripture offers us a positive definition by showing us that Sabbath is about resting, too.
God established Sabbath when he created the world by resting on the seventh day and making it holy. Interestingly, God didn’t rest because he was tired, and this should deeply inform our practice of Sabbath in the sense that we practice it even when we are not tired. When God practiced Sabbath, he entered into his creation and connected to it. When we practice Sabbath we enjoy what God has done and connect to both him and one another.
Practicing the discipline of celebration could look like participating in the praise of God during corporate worship. Sing, clap and raise your hands in celebration of who God is and what he has done.
Celebration can also look like having friends over for a meal and deliberately celebrating what God has done and is doing in our midst. The old tradition of Sunday dinner is a form of the discipline of celebration. The 40 days of Lent are more often associated with fasting than feasting, but remember the 40 days of Lent don’t include Sundays, so every Sunday is an opportunity to practice the discipline of celebration. Indeed, every Sunday reminds us we have every reason to celebrate, for our Lord has conquered the grave.
Liturgically, the six-week season of Lent is followed by the seven-week season of Easter, and it is a celebratory season. Thus we see that celebration can be a daily and weekly habit but it can and should include seasons of bigger celebrations. There is a reason God instituted a number of feasts for his people and why to this day we have traditional “holidays” that involve feasts and celebration. The key here is to bring God into our celebration and to use the celebration as a reminder that He is the reason we celebrate.
For us today, Sabbath-keeping might start with taking a nap on Sundays or whichever day you set aside to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. Because Sabbath-keeping involves setting down our work, you may need to set aside your phone for the day as so much work goes with us on our phones.
Given Sabbath involves connecting to God and one another, both worship and taking time to enjoy a meal (celebrate!), a walk and/or other recreational activities can be part of how you practice Sabbath. I use the word recreation intentionally because in a very real sense the discipline of Sabbath re-creates us. It puts the world in the proper perspective as we learn it doesn’t depend on us and our busyness.
– Jon Heeringa