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Celebrating the Whole of Life

Our name is "The Community of Celebration". It is not, as some have inaccurately labelled it on occasion, "The Community of the Celebration". Such a misnomer reflects a limited view of celebration, perhaps assuming it refers only to the celebration of the Eucharist. It is in fact a reference, not to a specific act, but to the spirit in which we live our life.

One of the central images of the kingdom of God is that of a banquet, particularly a wedding banquet. At the wedding at Cana, the wine supplied by Jesus was greater in quantity and quality than that provided by the host, and indeed its very appearance was an act of salvation to those whose provision for the banquet was inadequate. In Jesus' parables, the return of the Prodigal Son was celebrated with a feast - to the disgust of the son who had done his filial duty. All the outcasts in society were invited to the king's banquet, while those entitled to an invitation made excuses.

What is the meaning of these images? They are not merely theological statements about God's view of things, nor are they simply descriptions of life in the world to come. They tell us something about the "here and now" life which was being revealed to us by Jesus. There are no judgements, no distinctions between persons. All are acceptable, regardless of goodness or badness. All have a place of identity and belonging. All have something to contribute. And that is a cause for celebration. The power of it is profound, bringing healing both to the individual and to divided human society. The crooked tax collector, Zacchaeus, overjoyed, gives away half his goods. In the company of disciples, after Pentecost, no-one says anything is his own. The life which Jesus brought removes the need for protective barriers.

The good news of Jesus reveals to us our union with one another and our dependence on the God who is love. That is what we celebrate daily by our life together. Some, according to Jesus' parables, are unable to receive this, preferring instead the false affirmation provided by wealth, status and private interests. Such securities promote a culture of judgement which divides us, from which Jesus came to save us. Even those who have most to gain from the message of God's unconditional love and acceptance may be unable to receive it, like the man who was found without a wedding garment. His decision not to enter into the celebration left him in darkness. But to those who believe and live the life brought to us by Jesus, life is a celebration. "Can the guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?" asked Jesus to those who challenged him.

There are many things in life today which divide us, and in the process of separating from each other we make judgements. Class, job, race, status, gender, money, success, personality, qualifications, religious belief, moral behaviour, self image - there are all sorts of ways in which, consciously or unconsciously, we make judgements about others and define ourselves in relationship to them on the basis of such perceptions. Our judgements in turn govern the degree to which we are open to others, not simply in the restricted sense of emotional and psychological openness, but also in the spiritual sense. Jesus' openness was of the spiritual kind. He recognised the other for who they truly were, and was open both to their need and their gift.

When people meet such openness, they feel valued and appreciated. It releases them to give of themselves. They have a sense of who they are. They know they belong. In our life we strive to give every person a sense of their unique value and identity. Each person is seen as a gift, and their gift is celebrated. Children, for example, have a place and a contribution to make. We have found ways to reverse the old adage which says that they should be seen but not heard. It may well be that a child's contribution to our worship is among the most valuable and most important. We seek to affirm one another and to hear what God may be saying to us through one another, from the oldest to the youngest. When we do, it is something to be celebrated; that is to say, we publish its praises.

So far as possible we find ways to celebrate together as people apart from our formal times of worship. Common meals, anniversaries and birthdays, special fun times and spontaneous leisure activities, feast days and public holidays, are all occasions to appreciate one another and be human together. We encourage creativity to enhance our common life. Story telling and making music are important gifts among us. In our fun times it may be that some activities are enjoyed by certain ones more than others. On these occasions it is important that each of us participates willingly, so that all can enjoy the benefit.

To speak of celebration might sound to some as if life is a continuous party. Of course, life is not like that, and in community there is often a good deal of pain and struggle. It may seem a contradiction in terms to speak of celebrating the pain of life, and yet the transformation of human existence which Jesus offers invites us to celebrate the whole it, its joys and its sorrows. Jesus himself went to the cross "for the joy that was set before him", despising the the shame. He told his disciples that their sorrow would be turned into joy, and that his joy would be in them. This joy is not a superficial euphoria, the bubbliness of having a good time. It is a much deeper gladness, both transcending and healing our woundedness. Such joy finds its expression in our worship, but above all in the celebration of the Eucharist, celebrating the broken, wounded, but also resurrected Lord. In our worship, all our life is gathered up, and we celebrate its victory in him.

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