The Lost Art Of Feasting

large_the-lost-art-of-feasting-retjrwiuArticle by

Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

 

We might suppose that overstuffed American bellies would hardly need any instruction on feasting. So many of us have grown so accustomed to having so much to eat. Then here comes Thanksgiving. Just put it on autopilot. Fasting is the discipline today that is grossly under-served; no need to consider feasting.

Not so fast. It’s true that fasting is sadly overlooked, and too often forgotten. And yet, perhaps counterintuitively, true feasting is also in decline through familiarity and lack of spiritual purpose. Most of us have never given any serious thought to what it might mean to feast with Christ-honoring intentionality.

We’ve grown dull to the wonder of ample food and drink through constant use, and overuse. When every day is a virtual feast, we lose the blessing of a real one. When every meal is a pathway to indulgence, not only is fasting lost, but true feasting is as well.

Feasting as a Spiritual Joy

The Bible is replete with the goodness of food and the holiness of feasting. God in his goodness made his creation edible. He made trees “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9), and created us to eat his world: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29). Then after the flood, he extended the gift to eating animals: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). But distinct from the kindness of God in everyday food is the special grace of a feast.

In the Old Testament, God structured the seasons and years of his chosen people with fast days and feast days. Then he sent his Son as the great culmination of his nation’s feasts. Now those who make up God’s multinational people through Christ are no longer under obligation to practice Israel’s ancient feasts and rituals (Colossians 2:16). They were “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17). Christians are free to feast — or not to feast:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5–6)

But what we’re not free to do is feast in a way that dishonors God. And forgetting him altogether is profoundly dishonoring. As Christians, we want to learn to feast in such a way that we’re tasting God’s supernatural goodness as we enjoy natural tastes.

Not the Same as Indulging

Feasting is not first about the food. It is foremost about the Godward celebration of some specific occasion together. Good food and drink, in abundance, come in alongside our corporate focus to accentuate the appreciation and enjoyment of God and his kindness. The heart of feasting is not the food itself, but the heart of the feasters. A true feast is bigger than the food — infinitely bigger. The center is God and his greatness and grace toward us in Christ.

For Christians, feasting is not the same as mere indulgence. There is nothing particularly Christian about eating and drinking more than usual. What makes feasting a means of God’s grace for nourishing our souls is explicitly celebrating Christ together in faith. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Easter, a birthday or anniversary, when we feast as Christians, we celebrate the bounty and kindness of our Creator and Redeemer. Feasting in Christ is no mere physical event, but deeply spiritual.

Prepare the Way for Feasting

Good preparation for a good feast typically begins before the feast day — not only in our planning, but in our pattern of eating. When our normal daily consumption is characterized by sufficient restraint, then feasting is something we can rise to on special occasions, by faith and in good conscience, rather than being the baseline of everyday eating. If you’ve so overindulged leading up to the feast that you feel a need to count calories at the feast, something is not right. Daily restraint both keeps our stomachs primed for times of fasting (so we’re not miserably famished) and makes possible a kind of special indulgence on feast days.

But exercising self-control in eating and drinking as a habit of life is only a prerequisite to good feasting. For a big Thanksgiving dinner to honor God — and feed not only our stomachs, but our souls — we need a few simple, but significant, steps to make it holy.

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