Festivals with their attendant festivities ordinarily are seasons of happiness. Christmas is the festive season. However, festivals are not always outwardly religious in nature. There are rock, jazz and folk festivals as well as many other festivals celebrating historical and/or cultural events. It has been said that culture is religion externalised. If we keep this definition of culture in mind we can easily see that all community festivals are therefore broadly religious! Festivals are an expression of things communities hold dear, things worth celebrating. What is religious about a rock or a jazz festival? If you’ve ever been dazzled by a piece of music or gripped by song lyrics beautifully sung you’ll have had a religious experience. It’s a feeling of being elevated, ecstasy, i.e., a momentary feeling of having been transported to a higher plain. Food can do it. Drink can do it. Music can do it. Add these and more together and you have cultural festivities, a feast, a festival. However, the person needs to be in tune with the event.
The simplicity of the Lord’s Supper is that it is designed to lift up the communicant on wings like eagles to soar in heavenly realms, for the communicant by the Spirit through faith eats and drinks in the presence of the Lord at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Some Christians see the bread and wine only as a symbol and others only as a sacrifice. Properly understood the Lord’s Supper is an actual celebration using symbols to remember Christ’s sacrifice. It is a joyous occasion, a festival in which the food and drink elevates the soul and strengthens the believer’s faith.
The Lord’s Supper is the joyful fulfilment of the four seasonal festivals that existed in Old Testament times, viz., as per the season in the northern hemisphere, Spring, Unleavened Bread/Passover (Matthew 26:17-20); Summer, Harvest/Pentecost (Acts 2:1), Autumn, Ingathering/Tabernacles (John 7:2) and Winter, Dedication/Lights (John 10:22). As do all festivals, these point to celebratory events.
The opening chapter of the Bible contains an allusion to festivals. ‘Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years”’ Genesis 1:14. The Hebrew word here for ‘seasons’ is moo’a:dym. Not only has this word to do with climate, but it also includes the idea of festive gatherings, or seasonal celebration. As each season of the Old Testament calendar contained a festival, so each season in the New Testament calendar contains the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Traditionally Presbyterians have quarterly Communion. Each seasonal festival was also a reminder the Lord’s coming was/is drawing nearer.
Yet from Bacchus to Woodstock and beyond some festivals have degenerated into drunken and/or drug induced orgies, i.e., bacchanalian. However, if we keep in mind that culture is religion externalised we won’t fail to see that these are simply distorted forms of true religion. Don Mclean in his song ‘American Pie’ asks, ‘Do you believe in rock and roll? Can music save your mortal soul?’ Well, in line with the 1st Commandment it needs to be said that the trinity of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ is no substitute for the triune God! Whether it is in food, drink, music or whatever, wherever a person pursues happiness there is his/her god! However, the best festivals are those that have God at their centre.