Feasting in Lent
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We’ve all said it. I know I have said it: “In Lent, we fast except on Sundays.”
We do think that way, at least I do. I’m focused on the fast, and I tend to think of Sunday as an exception: a time to give up the fast so I can take a break and indulge in something I’ve given up. Then on Monday morning, back to “normal”. Sometimes we even think that fasting even on Sundays would be a greater fast, or a higher commitment to our Lenten Devotion. In this way of thinking, Sunday feasts are a concession to our weakness, a carnal break from our higher spiritual call to fast. And yet none of this is biblically or theological true.
We weren’t made for fasting, we were made for feasting. God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, to eat of anything in the garden they wanted, to enjoy his presence and each other. They were made for feasting and enjoying life. The only “no” commandment was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Everything else was ‘yes”!
But since the Great Rebellion, the Fall, we don’t handle feasting well. Humanity tends to over-indulge, become addicted, feel guilty, steal our food from others, etc, etc. Because of this, we start to think that feasting, enjoyment of life, and celebration must be bad things. We perceive that fasting is true to the spiritual life, but feasting and enjoyment are contradictory to them. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we fast so that we can be prepared to properly feast! Fasting is the prelude, feasting is the main event.
Jesus said this clearly when he was questioned about fasting by the disciples of John. They wanted to know why he and his disciples were not fasting. He replied, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” In other words, when he returns, we won’t need to fast anymore. We’ll be feasting in a great marriage supper. He says in Matthew 22 that the Kingdom of God can be compared to a wedding feast. Our fasting is preparation, it is part of this temporary phase of life. Feasting is what we are really learning to do. Feasting is our future and our life with God now. He created us to feast!
Listen to the prophet Jeremiah describing God’s restoration of Israel, a foreshadowing of all of the People of God in eternity:
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,
and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness,
declares the Lord.
And at the end of the Bible, when the New Heaven and Earth is described, the people are celebrating. They are enjoying God and each other and life. That’s our destiny, and we will know how to really feast then. Fasting is only a temporary part of our life in this fallen world, albeit a necessary one, which is preparatory for the Great Feast.
So during Lent, we fast to prepare for Easter, a parallel to our lives of waiting for Christ’s return. Just as we don’t buy our kids presents every day of the month before Christmas, we fast during Lent. This is not because presents are inherently bad or harmful. Its simply to prepare them for the enjoyment of opening presents on Christmas. We won’t eat cake every day of the week before our birthday. This is not because eating some cake is wrong, but because we want to celebrate with enjoyment and appreciation. But opening presents on Christmas and eating cake on our birthday are not exceptions to a “no presents” a “no cake” rule. Presents and cake are special things to be enjoyed and rightly prepared for by waiting for them until the proper time.
When we fast during Lent, we are not avoiding certain foods because they are inherently harmful or indulgent, but because food is sacred and special. We are preparing for the feast by reserving its special elements for the feast itself. Our fast reminds us what hunger and need feel like, so that when we feast we will know that it is God who fills us up. Part of that preparation are the Sunday feasts. The Sunday feasts in Lent are mini-Easters, celebrations of Christ’s resurrection on the Lord’s Day, so they are times to celebrate, to enjoy life, food, and fellowship. They are not moments of guilty indulgence, instead they are a glimpse into the future life we are assured of in Christ. We need those weekly reminders of the future feast, even in the midst of our fast time.
So this Lent, I want to learn to really enjoy the Sunday feast. I am asking for the grace to resist the temptation to see it as a guilty indulgence of the flesh. I want to feast with vigor and catch a glimpse of heaven! And during the week, to fast and pray, so that the Great Fifty Days of Easter celebration will be that much more meaningful and my heart will be well prepared.
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