Post last updated on August 1, 2022
Image credit: RAH
As I write and post this article, most Nepalese Hindus are observing Tihar, the festival of lights. Known as Diwali in parts of India, Tihar more or less ends a protracted festival season that begins in September and ends in November. Tihar, itself, extends into several days. Various pujas are performed in accord with the calendar: earlier in the week, offerings were made to crows, dogs, and the cow. Last night, households lighted the pathway to their homes, hoping to welcome and guide their goddess of wealth inside. Tomorrow, bhai-tika will showcase a ceremony in which sisters will perform rituals of worship toward and for their brothers. Next week, Chhath will mark the true end of the festival season, when early morning baths accompany the worship of the sun.
To anyone unfamiliar with the meaning of these festivals, the sight of it all can be rather startling. The beautiful is made to mix with the profane. Candles and stunning strings of multi-colored lights decorate scenes in which stones are said to represent the gods. Sticks of incense are burned, attending the prayers of peoples whose hopes and dreams are rarely as spiritual or pure as pretended. In fact, this is the lesson of idolatry, repeated in the Old Testament prophets. Regardless of its strange and ironic forms, the most surprising element of idolatry is not the idol, but the delusion of its maker.
Isaiah 44:9-20 says just this much. A man may, in fact, be so deceived by his own lusts that he will use one part of a log to warm himself in the fire, and then fashion the other half as a god. Significantly, in both cases he employs the wood for his own use; but in the second case, his work obtains the definition of idolatry, for he debases the definition of the divine to make it serve his wicked will. He is so devoid of knowledge and understanding as to impute wisdom to the stock of a tree. Indeed, man is so dedicated to his own will and pleasure, that vain rituals are afforded the high and noble status of religion.
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Against this stands the work of the Christian church. In rather ordinary ways, through days and weeks of its persistent plodding, the scriptures are preached to men. Those words detail the will and ways of God. Faith is born, and believers are edified in a way that almost never acquires the interest of famous men. It does not flatter men, though it does invigorate the believer. God is glorified as his words slowly but inevitably—even irreversibly—have their sway in hearts.
It is in the gathering of the church that another contrast may be highlighted. The church that we are presently attending is planning a one-day thanksgiving service, scheduled later this month to mark the seventh anniversary of its founding. The rather remarkable feature of the meeting is that the pastor is encouraging a potluck supper. Frankly, I am quite moved by the idea, for I know what it represents in this country. Among Hindus, where caste prescribes very definite social boundaries and privileges, an occasion when people of varied castes would cook food at home and then share that same food in a public setting is one of the most telling confirmations of the gospel’s power.1Of course, such a practice rests in the same tradition of that seen in the early church—feasts of charity (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13). The Lord’s Supper is the commanded companion that illustrates the cause and extent of the unity. Distinctions are not eradicated; they are made irrelevant to the interests and manifestation of love within the church.
In capitals all around the world, men devise many means to encourage or impose even the most tenable of unities. Against these efforts are raised the schemes of still other clever men, attempting another new unity to replace the last. The church is to stand outside the circle of these efforts, preaching a gospel that displays a different kind of power. Accordingly, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Accordingly, Jesus was crucified on a cross before he was raised from the dead. This is the power that is never seditious. It excites no protest nor activism against government; rather, it undercuts a believer’s pride of station and acknowledges its own unique message and unity by confirming all its members as a single body—whatever else the world may do. When all in a church commit themselves to their own humility and another’s profit, no one person need exalt himself. Who knew there was a theology to potluck suppers?
Notes & References
|↑1||Of course, such a practice rests in the same tradition of that seen in the early church—feasts of charity (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13). The Lord’s Supper is the commanded companion that illustrates the cause and extent of the unity.|