Keeping the Fast by Keeping the Feast Print
Written by Toby Sumpter   
Thursday, 03 December 2009 10:12

The Lord’s Day is the high feast day of the Christian Church. It is centrally our feast day in so far as it is the day and time in which we gather as the body of Christ around the Table of the Lord in honor of His resurrection. There in corporate worship the Lord comes to His people, He visits them, heaven and earth collide in praise and thanksgiving, and it is no less than the Day of the Lord which the prophets foretold. What St. John witnessed in Revelation in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day is what we too are invited into every Lord’s Day through the working of the Spirit.

But we are whole Bible Christians. All that we are is shaped and patterned after the entire Bible, and though we gladly affirm that we are not under the days, months, and years of the Old Covenant, we nevertheless look to those patterns for wisdom and understanding in our ordering of days and seasons.

This means among many other things, that it makes perfect sense to see the Lord’s Day as the Sabbath all grown up and glorious. It’s different enough that we can cheerfully insist that no Christian ought to be enslaved again to the old principles of the world. And at the same time, there’s enough continuity to look at our holy convocations, our Eucharistic feast, our joy and gladness and mercy and say, ‘Hey, look! That’s like the old Sabbath just lots better.’

So there’s no Judaizing going on when our impulse is to allow the Sabbath of the Lord’s Supper to flow out and fill our day. Understood rightly, celebrating the Lord’s Day all day Sunday is just like wanting Christmas to last all day or Thanksgiving or Easter. The holy convocations of the Old Covenant left their impressions on the days and weeks and years. When the people of God gathered together to keep the Feasts, their joy filled the days (Lev. 23:2ff). To be clear, I do not believe that the specific regulations of the fourth commandment apply in the exact same ways to the Lord’s Day as they did to the Sabbath Day in the Old Covenant. But let me say that I do believe those specific regulations have grown up into greater responsibility and not less. But I’ll leave that thought for another time.

The point I actually want to make here has to do with fasting. The Lord’s Day is our great Feast Day. But it, like the Sabbath of old, is also a certain kind of Fast Day. Let me explain. To be sure, I would want to distinguish between Feast Days proper and days of affliction like, for example, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:31). At the same time, the Day of Atonement is listed among the “feasts” and “sabbaths” of Israel (Lev. 23). This means that in principle it’s reasonable to expect that many of the same lessons are being learned through all of the feasts. A similar principle is at work both in the Day of Atonement where the people of Israel are to afflict their souls and in the Feast of Booths where the people of Israel are commanded to rejoice before the Lord for seven days. This is because in both a “feast day” and a “fast day” there is always a kind of fasting and feasting going on simultaneously. Always. So for example, the Sabbath laws include both positive commands and negative ones. And the negative commands include various kinds of abstaining and refraining. The point of course was always that they ought to abstain from certain activities (i.e. fasting) and partake of others (i.e. feasting). They were required to fast from their ordinary labors and feast on the provision of the Lord.

What I want to suggest is that the Lord’s Day, understood as the gathered worship of believers and the overflow that fills the first day of the week with joy in the new creation, ought to be the pattern for all feasting and fasting. We abstain from certain activities in order to worship the Lord with His people. We skip football games to eat in one another’s homes. We take off from work and take naps instead. We refrain from a more hurried (and frequently harried) schedule of work and meals, and we load a table with good things and laugh and rejoice and relax in one another’s presence and minister to those in need. In other words, our feasting always includes a kind of fasting, and I want to suggest a few directions to run with this.

First, the fast-as-a-feast fits nicely with the Lord’s instructions regarding our fasting. He says that when we fast, we should not make it look like we are. Jesus says that when we fast, we ought to anoint our heads and wash our faces (Mt. 6:17). Our fasting should look like we are feasting.

Second, this suggests ways for thinking about fasting in community. Historically, many different church traditions have practiced various forms of corporate fasting. The problem with other people knowing about your fast is tied to getting rewards from someone other than your Father in heaven. If we’re looking for kudos from our friends or neighbors, that’s all the reward we’re going to get. Fasting in secret is all about looking for a greater reward, a reward from the One who sees in secret and rewards openly (Mt. 6:18). At the same time, there can be both logistical and moral helps (and hindrances) to faithful fasting. Fasting in a completely individualized way almost certainly has to be done in isolation. A husband and father can’t fast very easily and not be noticed at least by his wife and children. And a thoughtful husband ought to give his wife some notice anyway. (“But Sweetie, I just can’t tell you why I won’t eat your dinner…”) But if a family is fasting together there can be great opportunities to encourage one another, pray together, learn together, and of course everyone is probably eating and drinking and participating in various ways in the same thing together. There’s no showboating when everyone’s in it together, even if they keep the fast in different ways.

In our community, we’ve worked hard and God has generally blessed us with a growing and healthy Sabbath culture on the Lord’s Day. Not only do we have robust, joyful worship together in our congregations, but we also gather together for feasting and games and psalm singing and other forms of rest and celebration and ministry. To my knowledge there is not a great deal of pickiness over exactly how everyone celebrates the Lord’s Day. Some folks go to the movies while others refrain. Some folks celebrate from 6pm Saturday evening until 6pm Sunday evening; others go from midnight to midnight. Various families have special ways in which they mark their joy and thankfulness, and that means that we do this in community and with deference for one another. And I know of no one who is known as the goody-goody because they don’t buy bread from the grocery store on the Lord’s Day. Some folks do; some folks don’t. The point is that we are nevertheless feasting together and to the extent that we mark this feast together, we are also necessarily fasting together. As we feast together, we are giving up other activities together. And there’s no secret about it, but that’s because no one really cares. But if a brother is consistently working, traveling, and generally disregarding worship on the Lord’s Day, we certainly will show concern. And of course there are good reasons why some people cannot make a normal Sunday worship service (police, military, doctors, etc.), but regularly skipping out on the Lord’s Day Feast for hunting, fishing, and boat shows is a refusal not only to feast but also a refusal to join the fast.

Last, and to push this thought one step further, if we are going to celebrate seasons like Advent and Lent, we ought to do so by keeping the Lord’s Day as our standard. This means that all fasting is always for feasting. We eat no bread so that we might feast on the Word that is our bread of life. We abstain from various activities so that we might feast in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We refrain from doing the ordinary so that we might give ourselves to those in need, the lonely, and the outcast and rejoice with them and feast – which is the true fast! (Is. 58:6-8) Even extreme, penitential fasting (e.g. Jonah 2:5-10) is for the purpose of seeking salvation in the Lord, our only source of life and health and strength. And when God hears and relents from promised judgment, our response is joyous feasting. All this is to say that large heapings of thankfulness and joy go a long way to make all of this possible, and this brings us back to the Lord’s Day, back to our Feast of Thanksgiving, back to what we get to do. We are not slaves to days or diets; we are free lords of the Sabbath, free to decorate the world with our Savior’s trophies. Celebrated rightly, Advent and Lent can fit easily into our calendar of feasts.


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Last Updated on Thursday, 03 December 2009 10:16