In the time of the great COVID Pandemic of 2020/2021, like so many, after being diagnosed with COVID, my wife and I completed our two-week time of quarantine and isolation from the rest of society. Though they didn’t get the virus, our boys had to do the same thing. Our symptoms lasted about 18 hours, and that was pretty much it, it was over. After that, it was basically 13 days of staying locked up, though for the most part, still feeling perfectly fine. However, there is one set of symptoms that seemed to stick around like an unwanted guest, loss of taste and smell. For someone who really enjoys the beauty of eating and savoring good food, this was not the most pleasant of experiences, particularly when so many in our church family took care of us and blessed us with such great meals. My boys were in digestive jubilation!
After being confined to the walls of our house, without any access to the outside world for two weeks, we were ready to resume normal flight patterns. One must understand, though feeling perfectly normal, I spent the entire two weeks eating every meal at a card table set up in my bedroom, alone. So we made a decision to go out and celebrate with a meal together, all at the same table, all together again. Anywhere other than that card table would do. Anywhere other than the walls of our 14-day confinement would do. This was worthy of a celebration.
We would laugh, we would talk, we would revel in simply doing what we’ve always taken for granted…the marvel of just sitting beside and across from each other at a dinner table. I would not be able to taste or smell a large portion of any part of that celebratory meal. It would not have the normal, desired outcome. As a matter of fact, as far as taste buds go, there would be very little outcome. I would just have to envision the greatness of the meal. One could suggest it would be wise to delay any such celebration until I could fully realize or enjoy it. But that would miss the point.
There is always room to celebrate the journey, even before you get the desired outcome. Sadly, this is one of the great things we miss in the mundane moments of life. We wait until the outcome is certain before we celebrate. We miss so much in not celebrating the process.
There are still other times when we celebrate the outcome long before it’s fully realized, or even when the natural circumstances would not seem to warrant a celebration. Several weeks before my own COVID diagnosis, I led funeral services for a long-time friend whose outcome from COVID had a tragic ending. After a brief fight, he would not survive. Unexpectedly, the world of the family he would leave behind would be turned upside down. The outcome was not the one we desired.
And yet, there we stood together, singing songs of God’s grace and provision, celebrating a life of well-lived faithfulness. There were tears, smiles, songs, and even a few laughs. The days ahead would still be difficult. The outcome of that moment would only be fully realized in eternal glory. But it was still a moment worthy of celebration for the hope and glory to come, a hope and glory that these temporary afflictions on earth were producing for us. That was still worthy of a celebration, even in the difficulty of undesirable circumstances.
We won’t always get to choose the circumstances that befall us in life. But we will get to choose how we approach those circumstances. We do get to choose our perspective and posture toward those circumstances and how we celebrate them.
I remember the first meal I ate with my dad after his second diagnosis of cancer. I wanted to soak my napkin with tears of sorrow and heartbreak. But strangely, in the unexplainable peace of that moment, we chose to celebrate. We didn’t celebrate the diagnosis of cancer, but we did celebrate the fact that God had been with my dad in his first battle with cancer, and that He was not going to abandon us, and that we would not face the second bout of cancer alone. Many times, the process must be celebrated, even before the outcome is realized. It may not be desired, but you have to celebrate anyway. There is always room for celebration.
In Luke 14, Jesus tells a story about a man who throws the celebration of all celebrations. But then, every event planner’s greatest fear comes true. The refusals come pouring in and no one is showing up to celebrate. They all give woeful excuses for not celebrating. We tend to do the same with Jesus’ offer of salvation. But the host refuses to be defeated. There WILL be a celebration! So he sends his servant out into the streets to pull in the “poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” Then, to get even more, he goes out into the roads less traveled to the forgotten who live there. He wants the house full.
It’s important to note that the celebration still goes on, even with the rejection by so many. It’s quite interesting that the ones filling up the table of celebration are the ones who have the most reasons not to celebrate. Jesus litters life with opportunities to celebrate. But few are they who grab hold of them, simply because they’re waiting for the desired outcome. The invitation to celebrate came to those who were still in the midst of their brokenness, those who were still residing in their affliction. And yet, in accepting God’s invitation to celebrate, even in the midst of undesirable circumstances, they found room at the table for their mourning to be turned to dancing, as Psalm 30:11 so eloquently phrases.
Our worship celebrations are so void of life because our lives are so void of celebration. We focus on the limitations of our obstacles, rather than the resources of our faithful God. We meander through the mundane, just existing from moment to moment, rather than ever stopping to celebrate the cluster of God’s goodness in the mundane. Things don’t always have to fall perfectly into place for celebration or worship to happen. Jesus called that worship “in Spirit and in Truth.” Sometimes, the most powerful celebrations and worship take place when everything is breaking apart. We should never wait in order to celebrate.
Once we learn to celebrate in the mundane, before the outcome is certain, our celebrations will become worshipful. When that happens, our worship will become celebratory. When that happens, we won’t have enough seats to hold the people who want to get into our sanctuaries of worship.
The practice of celebrating before the desired outcome will change our posture, our perspective, and move us forward. So even when the world declines it, celebrate anyway! When everyone else prioritizes it away, celebrate anyway! When the pain, the hurt, and the gloomy forecast try to suppress it, celebrate it anyway! There is always room at the table for the broken to celebrate. It is there that the Lord takes away our clothes of mourning and trades them for clothes of joy, in spite of our circumstances.
So yes, I couldn’t taste it, but I celebrated with food anyway. Sure, it wasn’t the same. But it was still worthy of a celebration. It was my way of rebelling against the world’s system of gloom and anxiety. But more than that, it was my acceptance of the beautiful invitation to celebrate the journey, even when the outcome is yet to be determined. This is only possible because every mundane moment, even the undesirable ones, lead to the ultimate outcome, “the salvation of our souls.” Never turn down a good rescue, and never turn down an opportunity to celebrate.