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!