Celebrating the Festivals, Broadening the Story

Allison and I were recently in Cancun, Mexico leading worship for over 300 missionaries to Latin America. We were a part of an area retreat sponsored by Mission to the World (MTW) and held every four years to renew and refresh the missionaries. Each day we had a morning and an evening session where we would worship and hear a message. During one of the morning sessions the speaker commented:

Ask most church-goers in North America, "Why did Jesus come to earth?" What will everybody say? "Jesus came to earth to die on the cross to save us from our sins so that we could go to heaven."

That answer is not wrong, it's just not complete and it's mostly stuck in the past (what Jesus did) without much of an understanding of the present (what Jesus is doing right now). It's part of the Story, but it's not the whole Story.

Jesus came to earth to die on the cross (to atone for our sin), to rise from the dead (as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection), to ascend to heaven (completing his mission on earth), to reign at the Father's right hand (instituting his present, cosmic Lordship and intercession), and to send the Holy Spirit (our Advocate and power for mission and ministry here on earth).

So, the question that I keep asking myself is, "Why are most Christians stuck in the past when it comes to understanding Jesus' mission?"

I spoke to the pastor that made the comment above. I told him, "You know, we're not helping people when it comes to a fuller understanding of Jesus' mission." What I meant was, as church leaders and worship planners, are we at least celebrating the festival of the Ascension on an annual basis? Do we put as much energy into celebrating the Ascension as we do for Christmas and Easter? How many sermons are preached on the Ascension? How many worship leaders are selecting songs about the Ascension in their worship sets? How many songwriters are crafting original songs about the Ascension?

If we want our people's answer to the question, "Why did Jesus come to earth?" to be broader, we need to at least demonstrate and model in worship that there is more to the Gospel Story than just the cross and the resurrection. The opportunities are there, but are we as church leaders providing our people with language that enlarges their understanding of the Story?

What if the Jews decided one day that they would no longer celebrate the annual Feast of the Passover? What do you think would happen over decades and centuries of neglect? More than likely they would lose the language and memory of the story of the Exodus. That is not too far removed from what has happened in North America. At least in most evangelical churches we have lost the festival and we've lost part of the Story.

So, while we were in Cancun I challenged those 300 missionaries, in addition to Christmas and Easter, to at least begin celebrating the the Ascension and Pentecost each year. And then see what happens.


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