There are key differences between rest, entertainment and festival (I depend upon the insights of Josef Pieper for these distinctions). The celebration of a feast cannot be called entertaining because its object is not the participants but the transcendent reality acclaimed. That doesn’t mean that folks can’t have fun at a festival, quite the contrary. It just means the purpose isn’t the fun, itself, but what the fun shares-in and shows-forth: something beyond itself: e.g., the birth of a Savior, the resurrection of the God-man, the descent of God’s Spirit, etc.
As important as rest is for us who inherit the Abrahamic-traditions of faith, neither entertainment nor festival is rest. Entertainment takes work, at least on the part of the entertainers. Festival takes work, much work; think of all that effort to make turkey-dinner for Thanksgiving Day.
As modern folk, we seem to have real difficulty with pure celebration, pure festival. And this is because we have trouble with transcendence. Nothing makes much sense to us unless it has some “practical” pay-off, here and now. It takes the identification and recognition of something beyond human realities and ends in order to find something worth celebrating. It is its very superfluity, on an immanent, practical level, that renders the possibility of celebration.
At the Eucharist, at the fraction in particular, we proclaim with the Apostle: “Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore, let us keep the feast, Alleluia.” Here we have the center of our celebration as Christians, as liturgical Christians, as Episcopalians. Here we have our central feast.
Does the church exist to exact business and get something done in this age that is passing away, taking some breathers every now and then for some “R&R” with its favorite form of worship so it can get back, all the more, to the work at hand? Or is the church the name for various traditions of celebrating God, keeping the Christian Passover, which must needs, occasionally, stop to exact business in this age that is passing away in order to support its superfluous celebration of a God it cannot manipulate?
The church in every age has a great challenge and opportunity: either to fall into the ends and means as defined by the age that is passing away, or to bring the gift of the life of the age to come to bear, in transfiguring light and life, upon the age that is passing away. The genuine ability to celebrate, to keep the feast, to make Eucharist, is the key to the difference.
What might our lives look like, how might we understand ourselves, how might we go about our business, if we observed it as a celebration, a Christian feast, where our work flowed out of, and back into our shared Eucharistic celebration as Christians? How might we keep the feast, serve together in our baptismal role as priests of the new covenant, transfigure what is passing away with that which shall remain eternal?
Nathan Jennings, a native of Austin, returned to his hometown when he joined the faculty of Seminary of the Southwest in 2005. Jennings has also served as the Director of the Anglican Studies Program at Seminary of the Southwest since 2008. Jennings is interested in liturgical theology, dogmatic theology, ascetical theology, theological hermeneutics and the way these disciplines intersect and inform one another.