Lent: Fasting and Feasting
As social, emotional, relational creatures, we have a desire to try to match our mood with the moment. We try to match our emotions with whatever the moment happens to call for at that time. Take two extremes - for example, two event-kind of extremes, a funeral and a wedding. Think about your mood during a funeral. I know for me I often start to talk slower, move slower, I try to match my mood with the moment. We all do. The same is true when you go to a wedding. We try to match our mood with the moment. We're excited, we want to share the celebration with the bride and groom, we want to dance on the dance floor, we are trying to match the mood with the moment.
Oftentimes some of the toughest moments in life are when our mood doesn't match the moment. Have you ever had that experience in life where you are going through a low point where you are going through a kind of a season of depression and you've got to raise your mood to match the moment? Maybe you hear about a new birth announcement from a friend of yours that they are welcoming a new baby into their life or maybe you go to a wedding or you go to a friend's kid’s graduation. You've got to raise your mood, at least you're trying to, you want to, you hope to, though it may be difficult.
Friends, in many ways, that I think is kind of the crux of what is going on here in our story today. Whereas Jesus is having this conversation with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law it was a question of does their mood, does their emotions does it match the moment that they are in. This morning we continue on in our sermon series on the gospel of Luke. Last week Russ Richardson filled in for me, reading the message that I had prepared. We looked at a story where Jesus calls Levi the tax collector to follow him and Levi's response was to throw a massive party, an incredible banquet and so you had this beautiful and strange and kind of surprising scene where Jesus kind of turns into a party animal of sorts he is eating and drinking celebrating with some of the people that you would least expect.
He’s having a ball at Levi's house where Levi is throwing a banquet. And the Pharisees and the teachers of the law kind of have a problem with this. In fact, looking back on it we probably shouldn't have broken up last week’s scripture with this week's scripture - in many ways it's one continuous story between what we read last week with Levi and him throwing a party with this conversation now with Jesus as it continues with the Pharisees and the tax collectors. Also, I don't know if you felt this way as we were reading the scripture, I will tell you that even after hours of study I still don't have a good grasp of what this scripture is all about so if you are feeling that that makes two of us.
All this to say, you'll see with the Pharisees here that they don't like how Jesus and his disciples are eating and drinking and celebrating. In their mind, the mood doesn’t match the moment. You'll notice in verse 33, here's what they ask of Jesus, saying, “John's disciples often fast and pray and so did the disciples of the Pharisees but yours go on eating and drinking?”
Again, you can see what they're seeing where Jesus and his disciples are at a party they are celebrating, eating, and drinking. We often associate food with moments of celebration - after all, that's what we do at weddings, right? We share a meal together. We eat and drink together. It's a moment of celebration and so the Pharisees and the teachers and law are thinking this is the wrong time for this to happen. The mood doesn’t match the moment. Instead, they would have expected or they wanted to see among Jesus' disciples that they would be fasting. but instead Jesus’s disciples are feasting. They expected fasting.
In Jesus’s day, fasting was something that you would associate (and this is still true today in many ways) with repentance and sorrow. It was a somber thing. And as you fasted, as you stepped away from eating and preparing meals, it would give you more time to pray, more time to reflect, a somber and reflective kind of time more fitting the mood and moment of a funeral. Even more, when they would fast it was in many ways to call out for God's presence where God's people wondered if God would ever return to his temple. If God's presence would ever return. As they were fasting, they were expressing sorrow for their sins, repenting of what they had done, calling and crying out that God would return. It was a somber and sorrowful moment.
And so they are looking at Jesus and his disciples saying, “Hey, your mood doesn't match the moment” and yet here is Jesus saying, “Actually no, it's just the opposite. Your mood, saying to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, your mood doesn't match the moment. Because Jesus wants them to see it's not funeral season, it's wedding season. Here's what Jesus says, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” That language of bridegroom carries throughout the Bible and you can see the connotations there. That is wedding language. Imagine going to a wedding: the bride and groom take their vows, they celebrate, they throw the roses. You go to sit down for dinner, you see a massive spread and yet then they tell you, “Actually, we're gonna fast tonight.” What a buzzkill that would be, right? That's not what you do at a wedding. You eat and you drink and you celebrate. Jesus is saying, when you are in my presence, when you are in the bridegroom's presence, you celebrate, you throw a party, you eat and drink. You don't tell the wedding guests to fast, right? That would be to kill the moment and the mood would then not match the moment.
And yet Jesus says, “but the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them in those days they will fast.” Here Jesus kind of uses some cryptic language, saying the bridegroom will be taken from them. That seems to suggest that Jesus is kind of foreshadowing his own death, saying there will be a day where the bridegroom is no longer with the disciples and followers. Where Jesus is raised from the dead and ascends into heaven. After that, then when he’s no longer there, then the mood can match the moment, then they will fast. In those days they will fast, but until that comes, it's party time, it's celebration time.
Altogether, it raises a bit of an interesting question. And that is, what time are we in? For you and I as followers of Jesus here in 2022, what time are we in? Like, what's the moment, what’s the moment in terms of the biblical narrative? What should we be doing? Should we be filled with sorrow or joy? Should we be feasting or fasting? How do we make sense of this scripture considering the fact that Jesus is no longer with us right now? Yet we are filled with his Holy Spirit and that Jesus is ascended and heaven, sitting at the right hand of God the Father.
On one hand it would mean to suggest that now it's time for you and I to fast again. As Jesus says the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken in those days they will fast. And yet I think the full extent of the answer is that it’s got to be both - sorrow and joy, feasting and fasting. For you and I right here, right now it's got to be a little bit of both. The Christian life has to be this balance, a back and forth rhythm of sorrow and joy, feasting and fasting, that's part of the rhythm of what we live.
On one hand, it's sorrow because we are crying out, come Lord Jesus come, we read the news and look at the world around us and we can see so many areas of our life that are in need and in our world today that are in need of Jesus’s healing and wholeness, so many areas of our life and in our world today that experience brokenness. There are indeed moments for sorrow, moments for us to fast, for us to cry out, come Lord Jesus come, and yet as his followers were also called to celebrate and be filled with joy that Jesus has come that he's died and rose again, that he's forgiven our sins, he's conquered death, he's filled us with the Holy Spirit. It is both sorrow and joy, feasting and fasting, and what makes this scripture particularly and uniquely interesting right here, right now is in light of the season that we are in. It's the season of Lent - this past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday beginning a 40 day season that leads us to Easter Sunday on April 17th.
Lent is something that started around the 3rd or 4th century. Something that Christians have been practicing as a way to make the journey towards Easter. It's a time of repentance, it's a time of renewal, it's a time of fasting, it's a time of reflecting on our sinfulness and our mortality so that we can appreciate and find joy in Easter all the more. That's in many ways what lent is. It's a season of fasting. Those 40 days are a reflection of Jesus’s fasting for 40 days in the wilderness. And yet, here's what's really interesting about Lent. Is that even Lent, a season that is about repentance and fasting also simultaneously captures this rhythm between feasting and fasting and here's what I mean.
Consider this detail - we say that lent is 40 days and yet if you get out your calendar. This year Ash Wednesday starts on March the 2nd it's going to go all the way to April 17th. And it does not take a mathematician to count the days and realize, “Wait, there's 46 days. What's that about? Is our.// clergy just bad at math? (Please don't answer that)
There's actually a beautiful design woven within the season of Lent and that is Sundays are feasting days. The 6 Sundays of Lent do not count to the overall total. That's how we get 40. And so as you journey through Lent each and every Sunday today is a feasting day in the midst of a fasting season, it's like a mini Easter that leads all the way up to Easter Sunday. It is to remind us of that resurrection truth.
So friends if you are giving something up for Lent please enjoy that very thing on Sundays. It's a feasting day. Years ago when I was in college I gave up meat for Lent. I wouldn't recommend it because for me I was just doing it out of the sheer challenge of it. Can I go 40 days without meat? Everyone lost in this scenario - my friends because they had to hear about it. I lost because I wasn't eating meat for 40 days. But the real problem was that in that absence, in that fasting moment, I wasn't actually using that to help connect and grow closer to Jesus. It was just simply a weird, personal challenge veiled in religiosity.
And at the heart of it is in many ways what fasting is - it is taking the absence of something, whether it's food or something else and adding something in its presence. Consider fasting - you're not eating or preparing meals for say 30-45 minutes a day, you can then fill that time with Bible reading and prayer and growing closer to the Lord.
I was not doing that with what I was giving up for Lent. So friends, if you are giving something up for Lent, I encourage you to think about how you can fill that with something that helps you grow closer to Jesus.
Probably the best thing that I've ever given up for Lent, the most spiritually helpful thing in terms of helping me grow in my relationship with the Lord was that I took away one of my favorite things, and that is listening to music and podcasts in the car. Whenever I was in the car, whenever I was driving, whether it was for 3 minutes or 30 I would let that be a time of silence. To be a time of prayer and reflection.
Now, I wasn't perfect, I wasn't doing that every single moment. But yet I was then, in that moment, redeeming the time, taking something that I loved, taking that away for a short season and then filling it with something better - filling it with prayer and reflection. I'm sure we're all thinking “I don't have time to add something to my life” well think about that, you're not really adding anything to your life in that moment, you're making that drive anyway, and yet it's a way in which you can use that fasting kind of thing to grow closer to the Lord.
You can fast and whether it's food or technology, the list goes on and on, things that we can be fasting - but encourage you to take that rhythm, that Lenten rhythm, a season of fasting and feasting and then taking Sundays as a time to feast and remember the joy and goodness of the resurrection moment of the Lord.