Jesus said that one day there would be a great feast, hosted by God himself. Everyone would be invited, but not everyone would come. And Jesus set about modelling that feast, where all were invited. He ate and drank – sometimes as host, sometimes as guest – with such commitment that his enemies called him a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of those who were excluded from God’s true table (Matthew 11:19).
And so the Church, following Jesus’ example, decided that they would set aside feast days throughout the year, and that they would invite people to the table, to give a foretaste of the Great Feast Day to come, and to model heaven breaking-in to earth in the present. And while they gave people a taster, to help them to decide to go to the Great Feast, they would also use these feasts as opportunities to tell the story of what God had done in Jesus – tying each feast to a particular event or person in that story.
But somewhere along the line, some Reformers (who had had the Bible translated into their own language so they could read it, but obviously hadn’t read Matthew 11:19 - or any of the Gospel accounts that led people to make the accusation of ‘glutton and drunkard’) decided that feasts were a conceit. Believing in God was a Very Serious Business. What people needed was sermons. And, of course, all the preachers – who loved the sound of their own voice – thought this was a genius idea: why had no-one come up with it sooner? Send word to the kitchen – the feast is cancelled!
I reckon we need to reclaim our feasts, as part of what it means to live a missional life, or life shaped by mission. Probably because I am an introvert, I don’t especially enjoy social events with more people present than I can fit around my table (which is to say, about twelve). But, introvert though I am, I am not a loner: I can appreciate solitude, as indeed I can appreciate festival crowds, but best of all is company around the table.
Christmas lasts twelve days. Yesterday was the feast of Stephen, the first person to be killed because of his belief that Jesus (whose coming into the world we celebrated the day before) was the Messiah, the One sent by God to rescue his people. Today is the feast of John the Evangelist, who saw God’s glory revealed in Jesus, and wrote about it in (the Gospel) According to John, three shorter letters, and the Revelation. Tomorrow is the festival of the Holy Innocents, recalling before God the infant boys of Bethlehem who lost their lives because God’s salvation was so threatening to those who have a vested interest in oppression and control over other people’s lives. January 6 is the Feast of Epiphany, recalling the Magi who recognised Jesus’ birth with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.
May your kitchen and your table be blessed this Christmas, and throughout the year ahead.