Fasting and Feasting

Date: February 27, 2009
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“There is a season for pancakes and abstaining from pancakes.” I believe that is in Ecclesiastes, but I’m not sure. Lent is a season of the church calendar that is intimately connected with food. If I had more time, I would research why we eat pancakes for Shrove (Fat) Tuesday and the origins of Mardi Gras. I don’t so I will reflect simply on the relationship of fasting and feasting in this season. The passage that comes to mind is Matthew 9:14-15,

14 Then the disciples of John came to him saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

What is the relationship of fasting and feasting? Usually Fat Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) is seen as the last chance to gorge yourself before the season of Lent when you must live a more austere and holy life. This has always seemed like a bad way to think about the purpose of feasting in relation to fasting. The Apostle Paul would certainly quote himself saying, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase? No way Jose!” (author’s paraphrase of Romans 6:1-2).

In Matthew’s gospel we catch a glimpse of how these two relate to one another. First let’s consider each one separately and then look at how they are connected. Feasts are prevalent in the Hebrew Bible. They celebrate the seasons of life, momentous occasions and YHWH’s decisive acting in history on behalf of YHWH’s people (Passover). Feasts acknowledged the abundance of life and the goodness of YHWH. These were celebrations of all that was right with the world. YHWH’s creation was indeed good.

As we all know this is not the whole story. Fasting is a reminder that everything is not right with the world. We are governed more by our lusts and base desires than any of us would care to admit. It is difficult, particularly for the affluent, to go without. Abstaining from things that are good in and of themselves and things that are necessary for our sustenance is a reminder of all that we have and those who do not.

The truth is feasting and fasting are never far from each other. The Passover is perhaps the clearest example of this. This feast recalls the oppression and injustice of slavery in Egypt. The seder meal celebrated for Passover begins, “When we were slaves in Egypt.” The remembrance of this past history identifies each generation with a dark time in Israel’s journey. At the very same time, the Passover celebrates YHWH’s action on behalf of the oppressed to liberate them spiritually, physically and economically.

And I haven’t even gotten to the passage from Matthew… We’ll save that for Part 2.

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