The Beautiful and Holy Act of Feasting
One of my favorite elements in Stephen Lawhead’s books is when he writes about food. For those who do not know about Stephen Lawhead, he is a writer of historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and imaginative Celtic mythology who has been creating stories of beauty and power for over 30 years. (If you are not familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and rectify that as soon as you can.) I have been reading Lawhead’s books since I was in the 4th grade. I devoured them as if they were water to a parched man. One of the common traits of his writing is the vivid and enticing description of times of feasting. The times of food, drink, and fellowship. These moments never disappoint.
The thing that made these moments so powerful, even though I did not recognize this fact until I was much older, is that they were not really about the food, however wonderful and appealing his descriptions could be. He had a more profound reason for painting these scenes of culinary joy. Lawhead knew the true, sacred power of The Feast.
Perhaps my favorite moment of feasting in any of Lawhead’s book occurs in The Paradise War, the first book of his magnificent trilogy, The Song of Albion. The protagonist, Lewis Gillies, a reserved, timid, and decidedly uncurious American studying in London, has come face-to-face with something he cannot completely understand. I will not spoil the fun but it is enough to know that things happen that should not happen based on our understanding of the world and he is struggling to make sense of it all. He meets a rather odd individual, Professor Nettles, who helps guide him in this strange new journey he frankly does not want to take. After Nettles attempts to explain the mysterious things that are happening to Lewis to rather unsatisfying results, he changes tack. Nettles takes Lewis to visit The Serbian. They arrive at what appears to be a warehouse, yet inside hides a place of unexpected joy and delight. It is a restaurant of sorts. A place where the owner and proprietor, Deimos, selects the meal for the patrons. He serves them with his own hands, bringing out one amazing dish after another. Lewis’s inhibitions and fears slowly melt away, under the unbridled exuberance of his host and of Nettles as they feast. Lewis succumbs to the revelry and digs in with abandon. The food, the drink, and the comradery in that old warehouse is a thing of beauty and it works on Lewis’s soul in a way that words, and facts never could. The wonders and possibilities of the “otherworldly” become tangible to him on that night.
It was Christmas of 1987. I was 10 years old. I grew up as a missionary kid in the country of Panama. That Christmas we experienced something that while shrouded in the haze of my childhood has never left my soul and heart untouched. Our neighbors, a couple who I honestly do not remember at all, invited us over for Christmas Eve dinner. In Panama, the custom is to eat a big, lavish meal on Christmas Eve at midnight. I have few memories of the night other than an overwhelming feeling of rightness of it all. The table, in my probably not completely accurate memory, was filled with foods of all kinds. There were meats, vegetables, salads, side dishes, desserts, everything you could ever want, all prepared with skill and care. And it was all there for us. Perhaps my parents have some idea as to why we were invited there that night. I do not. I do know it was a night I will never forget. Everything about that evening and that meal felt good. It felt exactly the way it was supposed to be. That is the best way I can describe it. It was right. While I am unsure about the spiritual state of our neighbors at that time, I do know our meal together was something special and sacred. They blessed our family that Christmas in a way that I am not sure even they realized.
I need to be clear about something at this point. I am not trying to make some grand theological point. I am not aware of the Bible speaking clearly or passionately about feasting in the manner in which I am writing. With that said, I do know that Scripture is full of examples of people enjoying meals together. Food and the sharing of it with others winds its way throughout the pages of Scripture. One of the most famous verses in Ecclesiastes tells us “that there is nothing better for [humanity] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” We are also exhorted to do everything for the glory of God and that includes our eating and drinking. The Old Testament law, given to Moses by God Himself is full of times of feasting and celebration. Those holy days were divinely mandated. While Christians usually do not celebrate those specific days anymore, the foundation and truth behind them endure.
More than that, it is in the very actions of the people we read about in Scripture that we get a clearer picture. When Abraham meets the traveling strangers – the LORD Himself and His angels – he prepares a meal and eats with them. The Prodigal son is welcomed home with a feast. Jesus feeds those who follow him in miraculous fashion. The Last Supper. The great Wedding Feast of the Lamb that awaits all who believe. It is clear that feasting, eating together, is not something man invented. It is something good and holy that our Creator set in our hearts from the very beginning.
Perhaps my favorite Scriptural example of this is found in the final chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus is alive. He has defeated death. He has appeared a few times to His disciples at this point but is not with them at all times as He used to be. He makes periodic appearances now. On this day, Peter and a few others head out to fish. It is something they know. Something they understand, which they need desperately in this time of things that simply make no sense to them. They fish all night but catch nothing. Jesus, standing on the shore, sees them and tells them to cast their nets on the other side. This has happened before and they know it, though they still are not convinced it is Jesus who is speaking to them. They obey, though, and they catch so many fish their nets are close to breaking. Peter is the first to accept that it is Jesus and he jumps from the boat and makes his way to the shore to be near his Lord. The rest of the disciples follow in the boat. Once they are all there, they find that Jesus has a fire prepared and is already cooking fish for them. He has bread as well. He invites them to come eat breakfast with Him. He breaks the bread and hands pieces to each of them. He does the same with the fish. The creator of the universe, the conqueror of death and the grave, cooks breakfast and serves them with His own hands. What a picture of humility! It is also such a simple and normal moment, one that is relatable to all of us. It is a meal. A time to sit down, eat, talk, and be with those He loves. In the midst of their confusion, uncertainty, and excitement, Jesus chooses to eat with this group of men who have followed Him for years.
I am probably stretching the limits of reasonable applicability and there are probably biblical scholars reading this who are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at my overzealous leaps of logic. I cry mercy. Perhaps I am overstating things. I do not think so but I will leave that to my betters to decide. I do know how my experiences have shaped me. I have felt the warmth, grace, joy, intimacy, love, and overwhelming rightness of feasting. I have experienced it with family and with friends, with neighbors and strangers. I have experienced it at church potlucks. I have seen what food and drink and companionship can create. I have seen it and know that it is good.
I have these friends. We will call them Sonia and Marvin. For as long as I have known them, they have lived out the truth of feasting better than anyone. They open their home constantly, inviting friends, family, and even some whom they have just recently met, and they break bread together. The food is always good, but that is secondary. What matters most, the thing that makes what they do so powerful, is that they open their home and their hearts and make everyone who enters part of their family. It is Christ-like and beautiful and it has blessed my life more times than I can say.
If done well, these times of feasting can be times of intense bonding. These times of feasting can loosen the tongue, open the heart, and remove obstacles to fellowship. This Easter, enjoy your time of feasting for it is a good and holy thing. Do so with the understanding that your Creator blesses all such acts of righteous pleasure. We were created to enjoy His many blessings and times of feasting and fellowship are blessings of the highest order. Gather with your family and friends, give thanks to the Father who gives us all good things, and enjoy this gift of the Feast.