Monday, November 11, 2013


On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.-Isaiah 25:6

Judaism is a religion that is mainly observed around a table. Between weekly celebrations of Sabbath meals and observances holidays such as Rosh Hoshanna, Passover and Purim, Jewish families who pray together also eat together. I've been privileged to be a guest at some of these celebrations, and I've enjoyed every moment and every bite. 

Christians also have a tradition of feasting. Our most commonly observed sacrament, communion, originated as part of a Passover feast. Often when we celebrate this sacrament in a church, the Pastor says, "let us keep the feast." Then everyone shares a tiny wafer or morsel of bread and a sip of wine. It has become a symbolic and spiritual feast, a ritual re-enactment of a feast, rather than a feast in the traditional sense of eating heartily of rich foods. After worship, at most churches, the Worshippers head to a fellowship room and then the real feasting begins--coffee, cookies, donuts, muffins, sometimes even cheese and crackers. 

How did this happen? I'm not entirely sure. Some of my seminary professors bemoaned this fact, but none of them went into a detailed accounting of the history. There is some interest in recovering the tradition of eating as part of worship. (For a wonderful introduction to this, check out Feasting with God by Holly Whitcomb. I have road-tested a number of the feasts and recipes in the book with a variety of groups from ages 6 and up with great success.) And churches and Christians do tend to eat together quite often. Everyone who has been part of a church probably has a copy of a well-thumbed church cookbook (or two or three or ten) and a lot of happy memories of breaking bread together in the church building. My own tradition, the United Church of Christ, traces our roots back to the Pilgrims who originated the celebration of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, in part because of its spiritual roots and in part because it is pretty much impossible to commercialize it to a great extent. It saddens me to see retailers opening stores on Thanksgiving. I like the idea that since the 1930s most Americans have been able to take advantage of the national holiday status of the day to sit down to a meal with the people who mean the most to them,  and retail outlets are starting to erode that. It also makes me sad that they are doing it because people are actually interesting in shopping on Thanksgiving day.  I don't like to be one of those old people who clucks about the erosion of traditional values that made our country great, but, gee whiz, we're talking about Thanksgiving here. It doesn't get more traditional and American than Thanksgiving.

It is possible, of course, to celebrate a feast on any day of the year, and most people who can't share a feast on Thanksgiving Day find a way to celebrate the holiday on another day. And that's a good thing. Feasting helps build bonds of fellowship and love, whether it happens in a church, around a table or anywhere else.

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