Feasting: Why Celebrate In A Sad World?

Feasting as a way of pushing back the darkness.

Neglecting Celebration

When you think of key practices for knowing God, your first thought likely isn't celebration and feasting. We tend to think of more contemplative and introspective things like meditation and prayer. Yet celebration—and in particular, feasting—is and forever will be a vital marker for God's people. As St. Augustine once said: "The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!"

The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!

—Augustin of Hippo

So why have we neglected it? Could it be that we failed to notice the abundance of feasting in the Bible? Could it be we have such a skewed view of God that we can't imagine him laughing and delighting? Could it be somehow we feel more holy or worthy when doing meditative or ascetic practices than when delighting in God's goodness in this world, the joy of a meal, and the company of friends?

What Is (Redemptive) Feasting?

Feasting is a transnational, across-time, instinctive response for celebrating a joyous occasion. In that way, feasting isn't a unique Christian practice. However, there's a distinction for those who know God.

When we come to the Bible, feasting is a celebratory meal that marks and delights in God's redemption. That is to say, the food and drink we share points us to the reality and goodness of God's redeeming story. And in the enjoyment of flavors and friendship we foster a greater delight in God himself—the giver of all good things and the one who will undo all sadness and pain from the face of the earth.

That is really the story of the entire Bible. In the opening pages we see humanity enjoying food in the presence of God. And in the closing pages we once again see humanity feasting in God's presence.

Yet to our surprise, when sin and brokenness enters the story, feasting doesn't stop. God keeps urging his people to have feasts—over 90 every year! These meals were meant to tell a story: that the God of feasting was still at work to bring people back into his presence, seated at his table, filled with the fullness of joy.

When Jesus arrives on the scene, he continues to feast. In fact, its when he celebrated the Feast of Passover for the last time, that he told his followers to keep another feast. He gave bread and wine that we might “mark and delight in God’s redemption” through him.

And of course, the end of the story has Jesus throwing a huge party, the "marriage supper of the Lamb."

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

More than any other, that final feast will be one of heartfelt joy, pointing us to the reality of God's cosmic redemption and delighting our hearts in seeing it accomplished.

The Tension of Feasting & Grieving

The sad reality is that we live in a profoundly broken and hurting world. Whether it's the distant wars in Europe and the middle east, or the close-to-home pain of disease or death for one we love, we face the earnest presence of evil, suffering, and sadness.

Thus, writing on feasting feels incongruent with the reality of our world. Where is goodness and joy when evil sings its song?

In the brokenness of life, we shouldn't run too quickly to the comfort of celebration. Feasting is not a replacement for grieving. God made us to weep over tragedies—it's part of being made in his image. Jesus, knowing he could and would raise his friend Lazarus from the grave, stopped and wept. Death is worth our tears.

“A strong confidence in the end of the story, does not undo or justify the absence of grief in the middle. A mature faith adds its tears to the sadness in our world.”

Chad Scruggs

We need to be people of tears because the sorrow is real and the pain is truly heartbreaking. We lament because sin, violence, and the loss of life bring tears to the eyes of our God. 

Why Feast In A Sad World?

So why feast in a sad world? Because celebration is a way we declare that evil has not won. 

If grief proclaims that things are not the way they’re supposed to be, then feasting proclaims that one day all will be well. Evil would love to wipe away all hope, all joy, and all thoughts of goodness. In feasting, we push back the veil of that darkness and celebrate God's light breaking in. As Samwise Gamgee once said: “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

Thus, feasting is faith in action. The joy of food and drink and community proclaims there is something good worth celebrating. Jesus is the victor over evil and not one atom of creation can resist his beautiful kingdom.

He is bringing an end to suffering and sorrow and sadness. He is bringing an end to cancer and MS and dementia. He’s bringing an end to abuse and war and mass shootings. He’s bringing an end to nursing homes and funeral homes and cemeteries.

Although there is a sadness worth grieving, there’s an even greater joy worth praising. So when you feast, celebrate in defiance of evil. Feast and dance and laugh at the face of death because its days are numbered. Jesus—who is the resurrection and the life—is coming.

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.

—Isaiah 25:8a

How Do We Become Feasting People?

If redemptive feasting is a neglected practice, then how can we cultivate more celebration in our lives and that of our communities?

I. Begin practicing celebration

There is a delighting in goodness that honors exactly how God has made us. So before we even come to feasting, what are the small ways you can begin to revel in the goodness that does exist in this world?

Celebration because with gratitude. Name many things that you are thankful for. Pray them to God.

Then, move from gratitude to enjoyment. Sing, dance, play games, watch a great movie, read books together. Use the muscle of celebration that it might become more and more natural to enjoy God’s good gifts. 

"Joy begets joy. Laughter begets laughter. It is one of those few things in life that we multiply by giving."

—Richard Foster

II. Try Feasting

That is, host or join a feast to celebrate the redemptive story of God. The two biggest celebrations in the Christian calendar are Christmas and Easter. What would it look like to feast this Easter, not as an empty tradition, but to give your heart and risk your joy in celebrating the good news of Jesus? 

After our jubilant Easter worship service, all our parishes will have Easter feasts. (If you're not in a parish and would like to join, let us know and we'll find you one. You're always welcome at our tables.) We’ll rejoice and eat and drink and laugh and dance because the resurrection of Jesus was just the beginning.

Final Thoughts

I'll close by sharing this quote from NT Wright.

“Easter is not only our greatest party (much greater by the way than Christmas–whatever you do on Christmas you ought to do ten times as much at Easter). Easter is the only reason we are here at all! So why, when we get to Easter Day, do we not celebrate wildly, lavishly, gloriously, at great length, and with studied disregard for normal propriety?…

We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, ’What is the meaning of this outrageous party?’” 

—NT Wright

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