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!

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Why Lent? Why Fast? Part 2: Spending Money

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There is a delightful story in the gospels about the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus with a question about taxes.  (See Matth. 22:15-22)  The question sounds deceptively simple, “Should we pay taxes?” but underlying it is a layers of historical and emotional nuance.

Still, Jesus simply tosses them a coin and says, “Whose image is on the coin?”  They say, “Caesar” and Jesus replies, “Then give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and then give to God that which belongs to God.”

Jesus’ answer is much more meaningful than a first glance might tell.  After all Caesar’s image was on all the money, not just the taxes and God’s image is written on all our bodies.  By referring to the imago Caesar, Jesus was also referring to the Imago Dei (image of God).  He was making a statement that metal coins (or even paper money) are the currency of the worldly kingdoms and should just be thrown back to the world.  In turn, our bodies are the currency of God’s kingdom.

Caesar’s image isn’t on our money today.  We have our great Presidents for that.  And in fact our money even gives a nice little shout out to God in the phrase, “In God We Trust.”  But I still wonder if money is one of those things the kingdoms of this world use to capture and enslave us to sin.  For this reason I am always incredibly inspired by Christians who truly have sold all they have and given it to the poor and chosen to live a very modest, almost beggar’s life.  I have met a few and I envy them most days.

Now I live in a suburb of a major metropolitan area.  Our suburb is know for having the nicest indoor mall around and I have it on good authority that 1.3 billion dollars in retail sales happen every year here.  Some weeks I think that my family supports at least half that amount!

A year ago I lived in a small rural town with almost no economy and still some temptation to spend money foolishly.  Since moving here that temptation has quadrupled!  A year ago the best grocery store was 20 miles away and grocery shopping could be a 2 hour event.  Now we have one just down the street and it is even home to a Starbucks!  If we forget to thaw some meat for dinner, we can now just order a pizza.  The mall has free indoor playgrounds and toys for my kids so I find myself going in there and window shopping once a week.  There is the Home Depot and Lowe’s which sell the coolest gadgets for home improvement.  We have fancier upscale restaurants as well as fast food.  And the Wal-Marts and Targets sell anything else we might need.  But if I am still too lazy to leave my house, I can always open the Google Play app and buy some movies, TV shows or music.  And all it takes is a couple of clicks.

For this reason I gave up spending money for Lent this year.  The stated goal was to, “Not spend money on myself by myself.”  I hesitated to do it, not for any spiritual reason, but because the words, “on myself, by myself” were incredibly vague and I don’t think vague goals succeed.  However, this fast has actually proven the most enlightening.

The fast means I have to stop and think before every purchase I make.  I ask myself the question, “Why am I really spending this money and who am I spending it on?”  A few times this Lent I have opened up the Google Play store, only to realize, “there is nothing here I can purchase or even need to purchase right now.”  At the beginning of Lent, I went to buy a shirt at Costco only to realize that is definitely spending money on myself.  I have walked into certain stores, only to realize there was no reason for me to be there.  I have driven past many a Starbucks and thought, “I have a moment to buy a Latte” and then realized, “Nuts!  That violates both the coffee fast and the spending money fast.”

I wouldn’t say I long or even desire to spend money.  I do not have a hoarder problem, I don’t think.  But I do desire some of the things of this world that only money can buy.  I desire the convenience of fast food, the enjoyment of movies, and the freedom that comes when you realize, “I totally have the money to pay for this!”  Sometimes I just enjoy the freedom of walking into a hardware or electronics store and looking around feeling like I belong there and that these products on the wall are the true life givers.

Of course they are not.  And of course after a month of not spending money during Lent, I realize that there is very little I even need to be spending money on, at least for myself.  I have done just fine without the shirt, the movie, the game, the convenient fast food and the latte.  No, I take that back.  I miss the Lattes!

But the most profound thing that happened this Lent was at a conference a couple weeks ago.  During the dinner break, I watched my friends and colleagues pair off and leave, only to realize that by the terms of my fast, someone had to invite me out to eat or else I would have to go hungry.  I spent the last half hour of the session praying I would be able to find a dinner partner and coming to grips with the reality that my fast meant I would have to starve.  There was a certain painful loneliness to that but in the end I grew desperate enough to accept the invitation to dinner from someone I would never have otherwise joined.  Wee had a wonderful and delightful conversation over pitas.  It was an inspiring conversation I would have missed if I had just gone out to eat by myself.  And in the end he even paid for the meal!

I would like to think that conversation with an unknown ally and friend was the true currency of God’s kingdom.

Come oh Easter!