Why Do We Feast?

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A few years ago, my parents rented a beach house for a family reunion. Each of us cooked a few meals during our time, and for one of the meals, we made BLTs. My husband stood over the stove, making enough bacon for over twenty hungry people.

We sat around the table, shuffling to make room as everyone filled their plates with sandwiches, chips, and salad. Eventually, he finished frying the last couple slices and started assembling his own sandwich, only to see the plate he had filled with bacon completely empty, save for a few spots of grease.

I blushed in embarrassment at my ravenous family. We forgot to tell him the cardinal rule of the table: if you don’t eat fast, you don’t eat. We laugh about that meal now, and we’ve learned to be a little more considerate of others. My husband also eats a bit more quickly around my family.

We love eating. But even more than that, we love feasting.

But why do we bother feasting? Why gather around the table with good company and good food when we could eat only what’s needed to survive? We don’t feast merely to eat, drink, and be merry, or indulge our appetites like my family seemed to do that day at the beach house. When we feast rightly, we taste the goodness of God, see and participate in the Gospel, and look forward to the eternal feast.

TASTE THE GOODNESS OF GOD

In The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon wrote, “Man invented cooking before he thought of nutrition. To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste.”

We need to recover taste, not for the sake of the food itself, but so that we can taste the goodness of God. King David uses the language of taste in Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” I think we can almost literally do that as we develop a theology of feasting.

At Creation, God could have given us the bare necessities, only food to sustain our bodies. He could have formed us without the need for food. But he gave us food to enjoy. He gave us variety. We have apples and dragon fruit, cinnamon and saffron. We’re able to not just taste food with our mouths, but see beauty on a plate. We can smell freshly baked cookies and hear the sizzling of butter in a pan. There is much to enjoy, much to savor. And it is good (Genesis 1:29-31).

When God gave the Israelites the law, he commanded that feasts be kept, that the people eat and drink together in celebration. In Deuteronomy 14, the tithe is spent on a feast. Chapter 16 gives commandments for celebrating three different feasts. Passover as we know, celebrated God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. The Feast of Weeks was in conjunction with the grain harvest, and The Feast of Booths celebrated the produce of the threshing floor, namely olives and grapes.

The importance of feasting was clear in the Jewish mind. The Talmud, the record of rabbinic teachings explaining how to live out the commands of the Torah, devotes an entire section to feasting and festivals. When talking about feasting it says, “There is no rejoicing save with wine.”

Wine and rejoicing go hand in hand. So when Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding in John 2, it’s not an arbitrary miracle. It’s essential for the rejoicing itself to continue. And when Jesus uses wine to signify his blood, that is no accident either.

God commanded feasts to be observed first so his people remembered who God is and what he’s done, and second, for the joy of his people.

SEE AND PARTICIPATE IN THE GOSPEL

Fast forward a few years to when Jesus enters the scene. Luke 7 records that Jesus, the Son of Man, came “eating and drinking” (verse 34). He had a reputation. First century Jews took table fellowship and the accompanying etiquette seriously. The Pharisees sought the restoration of Israel, and believed that would happen as the people lived out the call to separation and holiness.

When Jesus, then, sits down to eat with the likes of prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor (who were likely ceremonially unclean), he didn’t just commit a social taboo. For the Pharisees, he destroyed the boundary between clean and unclean, holy and unholy—which not only made them mad, but, in their eyes, could contribute to the delay of the promised restoration of Israel. To the Pharisees, Jesus compromised the very heart of the Jewish identity. But in his feasting, we see the Gospel unfold.

From his first miracle of turning water to wine, to feeding the 5,000, to eating with the unclean, to his parables, Jesus redefined the meaning of the restoration of Israel and the Kingdom of God. We see in him the fulfillment of Isaiah 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Jesus is where we find our satisfaction. He gives living water so we will not thirst again (John 4). He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and in him the hungry find their satisfaction (Luke 6:20).

And at that great Supper of the Lamb, with an eternal exhale and a shout of joy, we will say together, 'Behold, this is our God...let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.' In the new creation, we won't feast with symbols and foretastes. We will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb with the Lamb of God.

Sarah Hauser

No more clearly do we see Jesus fulfilling our hunger and thirst than in the Lord’s Supper. It’s in the taking of communion that we don’t just see the Gospel, we actually participate in it. This first communion meal acts as a fulcrum, holding the Jewish understanding of feasting and food on one end, and the messianic banquet on the other. All the feasting and food laws and prophetic language in the Old Testament hinge on this meal as Jesus announces the new covenant. There’s wine at the feast, but Jesus says that wine is his blood of the covenant–a strange thing to say, since Jews don’t drink blood (Leviticus 17:10-11)! But once again, Jesus unexpectedly fulfills the law and prophecies.

So they reclined at table, participating in the Passover feast as they always had, yet at the same time feasting in a new way. They ate bread, but now bread that stood for the body of Christ about to be broken. They drank wine, but now that wine was a symbol for the atoning blood of Christ. Now we also take the bread and the cup, remembering Christ’s sacrifice. In this feast of communion we participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In this feast, we see and participate in the Gospel. The Passover meal requiring a spotless lamb, hosted by the sacrificial Lamb of God, pointed to the eventual marriage supper of the Lamb.

LOOK FORWARD TO THE ETERNAL FEAST

Now we look ahead to what is to come. Those who believe Jesus is the Messiah, that he died and was raised declaring victory over sin, feast in a new way. For the early believers, this included freedom to partake in food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8) and to no longer be bound to a particular diet (Acts 10). Jewish believers were to eat even with those Gentiles they used to consider unclean (Galatians 2).

Paul told the Colossians, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (verses 16-17). The feasts, rituals, and laws in the old covenant were a shadow of the eventual marriage supper of the Lamb at which all believers will feast (Revelation 19).

Tim Chester encourages us in A Meal with Jesus saying, “The Christian community is the beginning and sign of God’s coming world – and no more so than when we eat together. Our meals are a foretaste of the future messianic banquet. Our meals reveal the identity of Jesus. Our meals are a proclamation and demonstration of God’s good news.”

I experienced a snapshot of this when my family gathered for breakfast one February morning. Shortly before we came to the table, my mom laid in her bedroom dying of pancreatic cancer. My siblings and I gathered around her that morning, knowing this moment was coming and wishing that knowledge made the process of death a little easier. But death is not the way it’s supposed to be. If you’ve lost a loved one, if you’ve stood by the bed as someone breathes their last, you know this in the depths of your soul.

That scene in my mom’s bedroom is emblazoned on my mind. I will never forget the sounds of her gasps or the feeling as though someone dropped an anvil on my chest. But just like when we understand our sin, we understand grace all the more, when we see the grotesqueness of death, oh how much sweeter is the hope of resurrection! For those in Christ, death may be inevitable. But it is not final.

My mom passed away that morning, and a surprising and almost awkward silence filled those moments after. We didn’t have to change her or feed her, fill pill boxes or wonder how much time she had left. What do we do now?

We did the only thing we knew to do. We shuffled into the kitchen, and my brother heated up the cast-iron skillet. Someone else began cracking eggs into a bowl and slicing cheese. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m sure there was bacon being fried, too. We refilled mugs of coffee, and plates clattered as we set the table. And like King David after the death of his son (2 Samuel 12:16-23), we ate.

I’ve had five years to reflect on that meal, and for me it embodied so much of the beauty of feasting. We tasted the abundance, provision, and indeed the goodness of our God. We saw death, but at the same time held deep hope in the resurrection. We looked forward, oh did we look forward, to the day when death would be swallowed up forever, and we would sit at the table, face to face, with God himself.

Isaiah 25 says, “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. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (verses 7-8).

And at that great Supper of the Lamb, with an eternal exhale and a shout of joy, we will say together, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (verse 9). In the new creation, we won’t feast with symbols and foretastes. We will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb with the Lamb of God.

Friends, this is why we feast. In feasting, we taste the goodness of God, we see and participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and we look forward to the day when we will dine, fully restored, with God himself.

You can read more of Sarah Hauser’s beautiful writing at sarahjhauser.com.


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