Last October, seven years after moving to North Carolina, I finally experienced the wonder of the NC State Fair. I enjoyed that day immensely. The sights and sounds took me back to a simpler time that felt like home, but of course the best part about the fair was the food. Oh my goodness, the food! As I sank my teeth into a huge turkey leg and savored every morsel of the deep fried Girl Scout cookies, I whispered a little prayer, thanking God for the gift of yummy food.
Those memories remind me of a simple truth, vital to any celebratory event, is the feast. Feasting is an essential activity for the spiritual life. From its beginning, the church set aside Sunday as a feast day. The season of Lent, a time for penitent reflection and fasting, is followed by Easter, a longer season for festivity and feasting as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus partook of a good feast so often that some accused him of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matt 11:19). Who says Christianity can’t be fun?
Yet we have twisted the good act of feasting into gluttony. The epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in this country is proof that gluttony is a real issue, but our gluttonous practices are nothing new. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul rebuked those within the Corinthian church who were perverting the feast that followed the observance of communion. Some believers went without food or drink while others got drunk, which humiliated those left without and led to division within the church. Can you imagine that scene from Corinth taking place during your church potluck?
So how do we enjoy the virtue of feasting without succumbing to the vice of gluttony? We begin by changing our focus. Simply put, godly feasting is not primarily about consumption. For that matter, neither is gluttony. The focus of the two is not food, but how we use food. Gluttonous eating is the ungrateful, greedy, divisive and ignorant use of food. However, godly feasting is characterized by thankfulness and sharing God’s goodness.
A wonderful example of a godly feast is captured in the feeding of the five thousand. With only five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, Jesus fed all who gathered to listen to his teaching. In fact, they “all ate and were filled” (Matt 14:20), and were left with more food than they had before the meal. What can we learn about feasting from this miraculous story? First, Jesus gave thanks for the food. For Jesus, the blessing was not a mindless ritual, but a prayer that came from a glad and sincere heart. Second, Jesus and the disciples shared the little they had with everyone, which led to the miraculous feast. In doing so, Jesus showed hospitality, a practice necessary for a proper feast. Third, rather than causing division, the feeding of the five thousand brought people together.
Jesus rejected the social norms of his time by eating with women and children. Like Jesus, we must also reject social norms that hinder others from hearing the gospel. Finally, feasting that is joy-filled as God intended it to be must include thoughtful contemplation of the good. After the feast was finished, Jesus told the disciples to gather the remaining food.
The disciples witnessed firsthand that not only were the people filled, but they had plenty of food left over. What they saw must have compelled them to consider the miracle in their midst, and the one who performed the miracle.
Many of us treat food as a thoughtless refueling exercise, but Jesus invites us to consider how food communicates his love and goodness.
Through the miraculous feast Jesus provided, hope was kindled in the hearts of the crowd because the people knew that in him the Messiah had finally come. We also communicate hope to a world desperately searching for it when we feast in a way that honors God. Through godly feasting we anticipate and point toward an even greater feast: the one Jesus prepares for those who trust in Him. So enjoy the festivals and fairs in North Carolina this fall, and as you partake of the gifts of good food, give thanks to God for providing it.
Share with someone less fortunate, celebrate with others and meditate on God’s goodness. Seriously, what better response is there to huge turkey legs and deep fried goodness?