Feast of Feasts

Agape Feast, early Christian catacomb artwork

I have to be careful what I eat, particularly where carbohydrates are concerned. When I cut back on breads and sugar, I lose weight; when I eat them the way I want, I quickly turn into Pastor Puffy.

The trick, I’ve found, is to indulge only on special occasions. An equally important trick is not to declare every other day a special occasion. (This second part is where I still struggle.)

A Very Big Special Occasion is coming up this Thursday. It is, of course, Thanksgiving. For the vast majority of us who find ourselves blessed enough to do so, we will feast in the midst of family, and in my case, when it comes to carbs, I will be like a little child who has yet to learn how to count.

In preparing this sermon, I thought I would go in search of texts related to eating and feasting. Naturally, I managed to find a troubling one.

Proverbs 23:19-21: “Hear, my child, and be wise, and direct your mind in the way. Do not be among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe them with rags.”

Now, as we know, all Scripture is God-inspired and useful, so we have to take this proverb about the dangers of gluttony seriously. But ahead of us there is turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, beans, corn, broccoli salad (much better than it sounds, kids), pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and whatever else the beloved cooks in the family may create via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. After eating all of it, I even plan to be a little drowsy. A little scriptural reconciliation is in order.

Hey, when in doubt, turn to Jesus. He was a good Jew, and I’m sure he understood the above proverb as a lesson in the importance of moderation. He also, however, understood the deeper meaning of the occasional feast, and abundance was a regular theme of his ministry.

Take his first miracle, for example. The savior of the universe, God among us in the flesh, turned water into wine at a wedding feast, after some prodding from his mother. We can presume Jesus did this because shame would fall on the newlyweds if the feast fell apart because of lack of food or drink. Through this miracle, he demonstrated there are no shortages when God is present.

We’re also talking about a Savior who more than once fed thousands after starting with what should have been enough to feed just a few, letting everyone eat until sated, with leftovers to spare.

Just before his death on the cross, Jesus used a feast to explain what was about to happen to him. His followers didn’t immediately understand what he was talking about, but it’s interesting to me how he used a moment of tremendous grace—a Jewish thanksgiving—to illustrate what would be the most abundant act of grace of all time, the death that would reconcile all to God.

Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the risen Christ continued to eat. There is what I would call a feast on the beach, a story found at the end of John’s gospel. Along with the abundant fish, abundant love—always a submerged theme during feasting—rose to the surface. Jesus forgave the denials and betrayals of his disciples, strengthening them to create the church.

We also cannot forget where we are headed, toward the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” the author of Revelation’s way of describing the experience of reunion with God. Grace and forgiveness finally cause heaven and earth to intersect, and at the heart of it all is a banquet table where Christ presides. We will feast with people who departed our earthly banquet tables long ago.

May your 2012 Thanksgiving be as full of grace and love as the great feast to come.

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