Why Christians Feast through JudgementDecember 30, 2022 Theology 1 Comment
At Harvest, both in our Anchored youth and in the evening service, we’ve been working our way through sections of the book of Esther. As we come to the end, I’ve been thinking about two themes, surprisingly intertwined, all throughout the Bible: feasting as a response and celebration of Judgement Day.
Judgment is an appropriate theme for the end of one year and beginning of the next, because we often put ourselves on scales (both physical and metaphorical!) at this time and figure out how we are measuring up. How is my marriage? How am I doing at my job? Where is my relationship with my children? The year end is often a time of measuring ourselves. But we also should ask ourselves, how do I measure up by God’s standard? Am I ready for Christ’s last day judgment?
If you aren’t familiar with the book of Esther, there is a an anticipation of the final Judgment Day when Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead, and finally and fully destroy Satan and all his armies. As Esther comes to a close, 500 enemies of the Jews are struck down in the capital city of Susa, and 75,000 who would have killed God’s people, are themselves struck down all over the kingdom of Medo-Persia. Judgement Day fills me with both a terror and an awe. As I have read and thought about the darkness of this destruction, I am surprised by God’s command to his people: celebrate!
But this certainly is not the only moment in the Bible where judgement and feasting are connected. As they approach their exodus, the Lord told Israel that she would have a final victory over her slave-master Egypt. The last and awful plague would finally crush obstinate Pharoah by striking closer to home than any of the previous plagues: his firstborn son, and all the firstborn sons of the families who didn’t have the Passover lamb’s blood on the lintel posts, would be struck by God’s judging angel. We share these stories often, read them in children story-Bible books. But think about how terrifying an experience this would be the morning after. So many parents in Egypt would wake up to find their first-born child dead. Since Pharoah had been too proud to release God’s firstborn son, Israel, this was the judgment that fell on all of Egypt.
What would you command your people to do the last night they were getting ready to be finally free from their oppressors? Packing up belongings? Looking at maps to prepare the way? God commands none of these things. Instead, he tells his people to feast. Gather, cook, prepare unleavened bread and a lamb. Eat a meal in celebration! Even as their enemies were being destroyed all around them, Israel raised their glasses and kept the feast.
This feast would be so important, that Israel was commanded to begin their whole calendar with a Passover feast. When they ate this meal year after year, Israel would always remember the judgment God brought on their enemies, and the victory he accomplished for them. Whatever was troubling them, making them anxious or afraid at that time, Israel was called to pause and eat the Passover to remember God’s salvation.
In Psalm 23:5, the culmination of David’s worship of the Lord for being his shepherd is all about a meal: God prepares a table for David in the presence of his enemies. They have to watch, presumably because God has conquered them, while David relaxes and celebrates while enjoying food and drink.
I have been reading and re-reading the book of Revelation this December. I am surprised again by the fact that some of the brightest and darkest moments of judgment and celebration are paired together in this book. In Revelation 19, the great multitude in heaven praises God “for his judgments are true and just, for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality and has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (19:2). But then the counterpart to this prostitute, the church also called the Lamb’s Bride, is invited to sit down with him at a feast: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
But the greatest feast, we celebrate as Christians now, is what the early church called our Love Feast: the Lord’s Supper. It too marks a judgment and deliverance through death. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim his death until he comes again” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The greatest moment that accomplished the church’s exodus, was Jesus being treated as sin itself: “He who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Three things to note about these stories:
First, notice God’s powerful hand in each of these judgment and feasting events. Esther is so beautifully told to demonstrate that, even when God seems absent, he is most present in the story. Year after year, Jews continue to retell the story of Purim, when God overturned the destruction intended for them, and brought it down on their enemies’ heads. The passover meal comes also completely by God’s initiative. He took the lead and told them that he would rescue them and then would call them to sit down around a table and celebrate it.
Second, feasts help us to mark time and remember God’s faithfulness. We do this as families. We sit down around Christmas meals, birthday meals and anniversary celebrations. This helps us to mark time. But we should also gather as Christians, around tables, and remember that God has again preserved us in the faith and brought us safely through another year. God’s people could celebrate Purim, when he rescued them from their enemies, and know that the same God who had protected them in exile in Persia, would keep walking faithfully with them.
Finally, feasts tell us where we came from and where we are going. Notice again, from 1 Corinthians 11:26, how important the past and future are: we have to proclaim Christ’s death (past) until he comes again (future). Our whole story as Christians is summed up in the Lord’s Supper. As we are united to Jesus, his death is our death. His future rescue mission when he will come to judge our enemies, is our future. Jesus secured our feast, through his death and judgment on a cross, so that we would never wonder what our final destination will be.
The children’s author, Kate DiCamillo, in an interview about her writing, explained why all of her stories end around a table: “Some part of me is always trying to get to the table… warm, safe and together. This is the thing I’m always trying to get to in a story.” This is where God is taking us together to live with him forever! May we enjoy feasts, whenever we have opportunity to enjoy them, and remember who we are, where we come from and where we are going.
What Pastor Adrian is reading and listening to:
- D.A. Carson (Editor), “Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns.” This is a compilation of many different pastors, teachers, and ministry directors (Navigators, Matthias Media), who all have a passion for evangelism. I haven’t read the whole book, but appreciated reading the stories of how God has worked to reach the lost all over the world through his church.
- Kate DiCamillo & Sarah Mackenzie on the Read-Aloud-Revival podcast: this is one of my favorite podcasts on storytelling (I quoted it above). You can access the whole episode here: https://readaloudrevival.com/121/
- Robert Elmer, “Fount of Heaven: Prayers of the Early Church.” This is a collection of prayers from the early church. I particularly like Augustine’s prayer, “Your Word is like a Mirror.” He writes, “For those of us who used to chase gods who were no gods, you who were God came after us. And by your words, like a bridle in a horse’s mouth, you turned us from the many gods to the one true God, the Mighty One. You drew us to the cross.” May He do this for us again and again in 2023!