Fasting and Feasting
There’s a delicious irony in the fact that Resurrection’s annual church picnic this Saturday will fall exactly one week after the OPC’s denomination-wide day of prayer and fasting last weekend. Providentially, this is a golden opportunity for us to think together about the relationship between fasting and feasting in the Bible.
When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in an abundantly fertile and fruitful garden filled with “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). In that mountain garden paradise God also set before them the prospect of a spiritual feast, represented by the Tree of Life. To enjoy that feast the requirement was that they keep covenant with God, demonstrating their exclusive heart-loyalty to Him by not eating from another Tree. In the Fall, Adam and Eve forfeited the feast of the Tree of Life by failing to fast from the Tree God had forbidden. In other words, rather than deny their desire for God-like independence, rather than humbly submit their hearts to His authority (which is what fasting is all about), they indulged their misdirected hunger for an illusion that could not satisfy them. And by that choice, they lost the feast that would have been truly fulfilling.
As God gradually began to disclose His plan of salvation through history, then, it’s striking that He often used the imagery of feasting. God’s first message to Pharaoh was, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.” He was planning to lead His people symbolically “back” to the holy mountain (in this case, Sinai) so that they could once again feast in His presence. Then, at the time of the exodus, God instituted the feast of the Passover so that Israel could taste every year the nourishing meat of the lamb whose life was taken in exchange for theirs. Next, God gave the Exodus generation manna from heaven—a miraculous feast in the wilderness to sustain them on their way to the Promised Land. In the ceremonial law there were certainly occasions for solemn repentance, such as the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32); however, many of the annual rituals Israel was to observe were oriented around seasons of joyful feasting. The rest of the Old Testament is full of festal imagery, for example in the Psalms (“They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights,” Psalm 36:8) and in the prophets (“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined,” Isaiah 25:6).
It is no surprise, then, that in the New Testamen,t Jesus’ first miracle took place at a feast (John 2:1-12); He frequently feasted with those He ministered to (Luke 5:29 for example), and in His parables He routinely described the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of a feast (such as in Matthew 22:2). Most importantly, Jesus’ last meal with His disciples before the cross was a Passover feast. That night in the upper room Jesus gave to the church for all time a feast of our own—the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper—picturing for us in rich, simple, and nourishing symbols His own crucified body and blood.
That night Jesus also hinted to His disciples that they were to look forward to another feast yet in the future. “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). The rest of the New Testament teaches us to look forward, then, to the great marriage feast of the Lamb when Jesus returns (Revelation 19:9), and in the meantime to feast on the rich blessings the Lord has provided for us in Christ to sustain us until then.
Grace-Based Action Point
It’s appropriate, then, in the life of the church, for us both to fast together and to feast together. The primary feast for God’s people is the Lord’s Supper, and of course that meal is utterly unique. No other meal feeds us spiritually with Christ or incarnates the spiritual communion we enjoy with Him and one another in the same way that sacrament does.
But that same “communion of the saints” is also strengthened and enriched when we share with each other the quite common meals of everyday life. This Saturday, and every time we enjoy table fellowship together, let’s learn to receive with gratitude and celebratory joy the good gifts of God that we share in this life, remembering that the food we eat and the fellowship we share are both a foretaste of the everlasting feast that Christ has set before us in the life to come.
Yours in Christ,