Last week I turned forty with much pomp and circumstance. My family treated me like royalty, sending me off on an adventure with my oldest daughter. My friends made detailed plans for restaurants and meet-ups. There was food and sunshine and praise and laughter involved. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.
Two days later in a conversation with a friend, I revealed I had a hard-and-fast case of mom-guilt left as a hangover from my big day: “Why do I feel so rotten about everyone celebrating my birthday? Why do I feel so selfish sharing my photos, when two days ago I felt so well-loved?”
She wisely replied, “I think we’ve forgotten how to celebrate birthdays as adults.”
Yes, my friend, yes, we have.
Children are a gift from the Lord. My husband’s quiver is full, and I know he’s freakishly grateful. But when did we get to the point where party hats and a bit of special attention are only for children? God values all life, and a good way to share this with the world might be celebrating each one age -9 months to 109 years. Each life is valuable and worthy of some special food and streamers. We don’t have to spend a lot of money, but we can. We don’t have to make it big to make it memorable, but we can.
I can think of another birthday we’ve forgotten, that we’ve made small in our efforts to maybe be unselfish or to be good stewards of time, resources, and energy. Maybe we set this birthday aside because we didn’t want to be too loud and obnoxious with our joy, in a world with so much hurt. Whatever the reason, let’s bring back celebrating adult birthdays, especially this one, so special it has a name:
Remember that day, Church?
Remember when fire came down from heaven and lapped our hair?
Remember when the wind blew strong and tender at the same time, filling our hearts and our homes with the Spirit of the living God, Church?
Remember when people were so filled with the joy of the risen Christ one thousand tongues spontaneously spoke the Lord’s Word in the language of their neighbor, rather than our own?
Remember when the Church was birthed, not by human hands, but by Jesus Christ Himself? Remember when He promised something to sustain us for the work ahead, the years ahead?
Jesus knew what He was doing when He sent that rushing Spirit into Jerusalem (Acts 2), and He knows what He’s doing now. We need the community that is the Church—to hear the Word, to be touched by God in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but also to do all of that and more . . . together. The Church is designed as a family. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday on Christmas and each of our re-birthdays with the resurrection of our Lord on Easter, just like any family would.
And the Church has indeed grown up. So, let’s bring back adult birthdays. Let’s celebrate this big, beautiful community God has created, this cloud of witnesses that spans space and time by His strength alone. Let’s show the world that the Church was and is created as a Body, knit together, for support, for affection, for check-ins, for accountability, and for somewhere to be truly seen and yet to be loved, forgiven, and reminded of our worth (Colossians 2:19).
So, how can we celebrate the Church at Pentecost? How can we throw her a rip-roaring birthday to remind her that she is treasured, precious, and her candles will never go out on her cake today, tomorrow, or the next?
Here’s a list to help. You can go big or keep it small, just like any other birthday celebration. We don’t have to Pinterest it to death, but we can commemorate the Church as we would any person; after all, the Church is a living, breathing, mighty and mysterious gift from our mighty and mysterious God. Choose one or two things that work for you. Invite others to join you. Choose something to celebrate the community that is the Church, by doing something intentionally in community.
Ideas for celebrating the community that is the Church this Pentecost
- Invite a fellow member of the Body out for coffee and a cupcake
- Go out to eat with church friends to celebrate
- Have a birthday party and make sure there are streamers
- Bake a cake as a family and invite someone to join you
- Have a potluck or a dinner party
- Toast a special beverage of choice to the Church on earth and praise God for creating her
- Make tongues-of-fire hats and have a processional (see Pinterest for this) ;)
- Have a block party and invite the neighbors
- Send a note to your pastor or other church workers thanking them for their part in faithfully proclaiming Jesus in the Church and among her people
- Stock up on firewood for the fire pit and invite people over for conversation
- Take a family camping trip or day hike as a church or small group to celebrate the Creator
- Ask someone to translate the worship service or sermon into another tongue, being particularly mindful of your context and those within your midst
- Celebrate with a litany seeking God’s help to end racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and stigmas in our churches
- Have a church picnic; make sure there is pie and invite me
- Read Acts 1–2 at your family table and share what you are thankful for about the Church
Dear Church, you are a gift. Sometimes you frustrate us. Sometimes what we see of you is less than perfect or even far from perfect, but God created you, so you are worth celebrating. Let’s do that together, Church. This life is better together, which makes the celebration so very sweet.
For more from Heidi Goehmann, preview her upcoming book, The Mighty and the Mysterious.