Trinity feast meditation

Here’s the meditation from our first Trinity feast today – an epic time was had by all!

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I’d like to read a short meditation I’ve composed for the occasion of this feast – but first let’s begin by reading Jeremiah 31:10–14.

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.” For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD.

What I’d like you to notice is that the fruit of God’s saving work on behalf of His people in this text is feasting. That’s where it’s all going: to a feast, to a glorious festive occasion of communal celebrating, eating, drinking, and dancing – with the great God of Israel in the center of it all.

The question I want to ask you all this afternoon is this: Do you believe the God of heaven and earth approves of what we’re doing here today? Or do you believe that, while He may not frown on this sort of playing and indulging, He very likely rolls His eyes at it, as something altogether unnecessary, as a very questionable use of time and resources?

What distinguishes godly feasting from frivolity and foolishness? What distinguishes a feast like this from mere glutting of bodily appetites? Even if we believe that feasting is permissible, dare we regard it as anything like a priority? Isn’t such fun at least potentially dangerous, even if it’s not forbidden? At the very least, mustn’t we say it’s something we could do without?

I want to suggest that the answer to these sorts of questions lies in an unexpected place, indeed, the one place we might never think to look. It lies in the food all around us here today; the food gives us the answers!

If you look at the food the earth produces, and at the food humankind makes from the stuff the earth produces, the one thing you could never, ever possibly conclude is that the God who made all this is interested only in nutrition! This is something our food-obsessed culture seems curiously incapable of grasping: that the most important question when it comes to food is not whether it’s nutritious. It so happens that God made a world full of nutritious food, and that’s important, but God could also have made nutritious food that was a gloomy chore to eat, and the simple fact is – He didn’t!

The point of eating is not to survive. The point of eating is not nutrition, however important that may be as a byproduct. Biblically, the point of eating is enjoyment! Eating is to be delightful. It’s not just a matter of staying alive. In his fantastically insightful volume, The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon puts it thus:

Man invented cooking before he thought of nutrition. To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste. . . . Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. (P. 40)

From eating, then, let us come to the subject of feasting. Feasting is eating of a very particular type. A feast adds to the enjoyment we enjoy (or should enjoy) at every meal two additional, all-important components: a lot of time, and a lot of people. First, lots of time: The atmosphere of a feast is one of rest, of Sabbath. It’s one of leisure. A feast is not hurried. A feast takes a lot of time. Why? Because you really can’t enjoy things as they ought to be enjoyed at high speed. Enjoyment requires attention, it demands that we notice things, and noticing takes time. If you ever in your life get bored with life, it’s because you’ve stopped noticing things, and it’s a fair bet in today’s world that the reason you stopped is that you’re moving far too quickly through it all. Hence the healing power of feasting: here you can stop; here you can rest; here there’s no hurry. Fill up your plate, and savor everything. Taste the wine. Then have a second glass, and be at peace. If for some inexplicable reason you feel guilty, remind yourself that God gave us an entire day to do this every week. But there’s something else we must connect to this whole matter of ample time. . . .

If a feast requires conscious rejection of hurrying and inattention, it also requires conscious rejection of efficiency and economy. The basic question at a feast is not: Did we make all this for the best price, with the least waste of time? Away with fast, cheap food at a feast! What we want here is varieties of color and flavor and detail, to the glory of God, and the extra time and money we spent to enjoy such blessings is time and money well spent! As Capon puts it in his inimitable way, “God may be simple, but simplicity makes a bad god.”

There’s a second thing at a feast: not just lots of time (and generosity of expense!), but lots of people. A feast, by definition, is not a solo affair. It’s not a private indulgence. You can’t feast alone. A feast is a fellowship. It requires togetherness.

But not just any togetherness! A feast is not a gathering of strangers. The feasts God ordained for His people Israel were always times of shared remembrance, of retelling a common story, of looking back on things experienced together; and it was this remembered togetherness that filled the togetherness of the present feast with such meaning and joy. This is why the best feasts have the “feel” of a family gathering. Into such togetherness strangers are welcomed, and so the fellowship swells and expands; but take away the common story, the common life, and a feast is nothing more than a polite cocktail party, a social engagement to be endured and escaped as quickly as possible.

Put all of this together: abundant, enjoyable food; unhurried time; and a reunion of people bound by a common story and a common life – who have worked, suffered, and endured together – and you have the makings of a true feast. And you know it’s real when you hear the laughter: when the music strikes up, the talk gets noisy, everyone is eating well, the wine is flowing, and you see heads thrown back in uproarious mirth. This is feasting. And it glorifies God.

Which brings me to the last thing I want to mention, and the most important. There is one additional component to the Christian feast. Enjoyment is a must; lots of time and people are a must. But at the center of it all is the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, declares the Lord.” The difference between gluttonous revelry and godly feasting may be summed up in a word: thankfulness. Gratitude. Grateful enjoyment is godly enjoyment. Every good gift is from the Lord our God in our midst; He’s the Host behind every feast. This is His world, we are His creatures; He has saved us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ; He has taken us who were once His enemies, and made us His friends. His grace is our story, His promises are our future; and in communion with His children we fill our plates and raise our glasses today and lift up our voices in holy laughter.

In closing, perhaps we cannot do better than to turn once again to Robert Capon and take as our own his prayer for God’s people as they come to the fruit of the earth, the bountiful food God sets before us and all of His creatures:

O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men – to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as thou hast blessed us – with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen. (Pp. 27– 28)

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