Why Feast? Why Easter?

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It is now common knowledge that we live in a country and in a culture where the vast majority of people are entertaining themselves to death.  We binge watch Netflix while binge eating potato chips.  We have 350 channels, (some of which specialize in both golf and fishing), and billions of websites, (half of which are pictures of cats).  As if our living rooms were not personal enough, those channels and websites now fit in our pockets where we can pull them out and stare at them in a moment’s notice.  All of this preoccupies our attention and takes us away from the stuff in life that truly matters.

The end result is that we are turning into a kind of zombie, neither jovial nor morose, not quite lifelike but also not quite dead, not entirely rejoicing and not entirely mourning, just passing the hours staring at super heroes throwing things at each other while we stuff our faces with Doritos.

Churches have not helped much in this regard.  Our funerals last maybe an hour.  We rush by the widows, giving them our quick regards before rushing home to watch half celebrities dance the tango.  And forget doing mournful services for other sorrowful events, like the loss of a job, the loss of an important relationship, or the loss of good health.  We might send a card, if we are one of the faithful few left.  We do not make nearly enough time to sit in the ash heaps with our mourning friends.  And if we do visit, it will be no time at all before we suggest doing something “fun” to “get the mind off” the pain.

We are equally abysmal when it comes to rejoicing.  Our holidays are only slightly longer than funerals, mere 24 hour period breaks before we resume the hectic rush of life.  This unless we work in retail, which means our holy-days are the busiest days of the year and filled with sinful mobs.  The days after both Thanksgiving and Christmas we flood the shopping lines to either buy or return unwanted gifts before going back to work.  When something good happens in a friends’ life we rush to their party and then rush away.  Sometimes we even blame them for the fact that we stink at rejoicing, saying that they should have been more “fun” or that the party should have been better “planned” like the episode of the Bachelor we are going home to watch.

In short, we hurry our mourning and we hurry our rejoicing so that we can go back to being zombies as soon as possible.

To the extent in which the above is accurate, the church has a powerful tool for restoring abundant life to our petrified existences.  Over centuries we have developed a calendar that tells time differently than the rather bleak time of the world.  This calendar has times for fasting and mourning and times for feasting and rejoicing.  By celebrating the calendar, we remember that our God has commanded us to both mourn and to rejoice and not to stare at smartphones.

In fact, for a Kingdom that is here but not yet here, mourning and rejoicing are two sides of the same coin.  In our faith, we cannot fast without feasting and we cannot feast without fasting.  Both are commanded by God and both are means of grace by which we grow in Christ likeness.

This is why I have found that we should never do the 40 days of Lent without the 50 days of Easter.  Feasting is as much a Christian discipline as fasting and it affects our prayer life in equally profound ways.  In fact, over time the church has created way more “feast days” than “fast days.”  A cursory glance at a liturgical calendar might reveal at least 3 a week.  Though we certainly went overboard in that regard, one of the best ways to prevent the zombification of our society is to lead our people in times of both fasting and feasting as acts of prayer.

In such thinking, the 50 days of Easter are incredible for helping people rediscover the joy and celebration that only a Resurrected Messiah can bring.  Easter feasting is a way of reminding ourselves that all good and perfect gifts come from the Father who fully intends us to enjoy them in life giving ways.  After fasting for Lent our Easter feast reminds us that though we are weak, God is strong.  Though we are poor in spirit, God has given the Spirit in great measure.  Though we are broken, we know a great physician!  For this reason anybody who gave up something for the 40 days of Lent should take up something for the 50 days of Easter.

This is by no means to introduce us to periods of gluttony followed by periods of anorexia followed by more gluttony.  Feasting is not calorie indulgence and neither is fasting calorie neglect.  But it is to help us rediscover the practice of mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  While we fast we take a good hard look at ourselves and the world and are shocked again by all the futility, or “vapor” as the author of Ecclesiastes calls it.  But while we feast we remember that God is greater than our futility and his Kingdom is far more profound than anything else this world has to offer, especially those super hero’s who can’t help but throw things at each other.

Easter is easy for me this year.  After suffering without coffee for 40 days of Lent, the last three mornings, I have hovered over my dark, warm cup, breathing in those sweet fumes and thanking God for guaranteeing us an eternity of abundance.  He is Risen Indeed!

On that note, Happy Easter!  I hope the resurrection hope shines the greater as you celebrate our coming King!

Why Lent, Why Fast Part 4: Feast Days!

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Very early on in Christianity the new believers began meeting every Saturday night or Sunday morning to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.  They thought the Resurrection was such a world changing event, they celebrated its anniversary every single week.  Contrary to popular belief, they did not believe Jesus created a new Sabbath on Sundays.  They just were so appreciative of the reality of the resurrection, a resurrection that guarantees our own resurrections, that they threw a dinner party for it once a week and invited anybody who wanted to come join them!

For that reason, when they eventually began the season of Lent, they allowed those fasting to break their fasts on Sundays, a practice which continues to today.  The thinking was that if Lent is suffering with Christ, we should not suffer on the weekly anniversary of the Resurrection.

With that said, I have never celebrated the feast days until this year.  I figured the practice was a little trite and some part of me felt guilty for breaking my fast for the Feast days.  I am not sure what changed in me but this year I decided I should celebrate the Feast days just to see what happened.  Spoiler alert: I found the practice quite meaningful.

Not only did the feast days better accentuate Sundays as the miniature celebrate of Easter that they are, but it also made the weekly fasting more meaningful.

The very first Sunday of Lent, I had just finished my very painful detox of caffeine.  I was so miserable at that point, that the very thought of giving my body that which it had been craving, only to take it away again seemed cruel.  And if I hadn’t decided to celebrate the feast days before that moment, I would have gone without coffee that day and probably all 45 days of Lent.

But I always do what I set out do, so that first Sunday I brewed some coffee.  After pouring it into my mug, I took a moment to smell the glorious aroma.  I then sipped, very slowly and very cautiously the bold, black substance on my walk to church.  The very next day I was suffering with Jesus again with headaches, chills, spasms and lethargy.

Now it has been five weeks and the preoccupation with caffeine is almost entirely out of my body, if not yet out of my soul.  I am not lethargic.  I am not shaky.  I feel just as energized as I did with coffee and I certainly don’t get any withdrawal symptoms on Mondays.  But Sundays certainly have a new enthusiasm and energy as the caffeine provides double the energy it formerly did!

But the feast days have not been about the renewed energy.  They have been about that first smell of coffee, that wonderful aroma drifting up into my nose.  Smell, after all, is the least appreciated sense.  I heard once that aromas are locked into our memories long after sounds and tastes and sights are gone.  The very waft of a smell can bring back a flood of nostalgia or hatred.  A smell can alter our mood quicker than any of the other senses can.  And on the weekdays without coffee, I miss the smell the most.  So on Sundays when I first hover over the mug, the smell reminds me that as dour and dark as this world may be, there is a newer, brighter day coming when our bodies shall be raised from the dead.  Those who are dead in Christ shall be made alive!  We are new creations!  Jesus is making all things new!  I long for Easter that much more and for the better world that Jesus’ second return will bring.

This morning I talked to my congregation about the necessity of not losing hope.  I argued that when we lose hope we crucify Jesus all over again.  When we escape our strongholds of hope, we become enslaved again by fear and rage and death.

And sometimes all we need to remain in the safety of hope is the smell of dark coffee on a Sunday morning.

Tune back tomorrow for some Holy Week reflections.