Go Ahead: Feast!

7 06 2011

This is a reflection on Chapter 4, “Communal Feast” in Dan Allender’s book Sabbath.

Some of my best memories have been around a table:

  • A makeshift table by the side of the road, on our way to a vacation. Mom pulling out the Coleman cooler and the glass jar of home-made iced tea that she only made in summer. The taste of that sweet tea after being hot and sweaty, stuck to vinyl seats in the back of the car.
  • A picnic table with my Uncle filling our plates with barbecued sausage (sausage he had made) and the sweetest slices of watermelon, cut from the center, for his nephews and nieces.
  • Easter buffet tables where the paska — the cap piece with all the icing – called to us from the end, past the meat and the vegetables.
  • A fine dining table; a final feast of friends. We had owned some property together that we had sold and we said farewell to that part of our journey. Not just a dinner, a feast in a private dining room with a killer view and fine wine. A feast that lasted for hours with stories and laughter and goodness.
  • A table up in the air; a meal that we knew was outrageously overpriced but meant we could sit above the city at the Space Needle; all of us, my family, gathered. The bill is stapled in a scrapbook but the memory of it still brings a huge smile to my face. And if I remember that one, there are hundreds of meals similar in spirit.
  • The casual table, the one where people just grab their food so that they don’t miss a second of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Noisy and funny and intense and just…good.

There is something about the “feast” that is inseparable from the Sabbath; something tied to Psalm 34:8 which says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him.” The Sabbath feast is “the context for our senses to be unfettered and unattached from the oily grind of the soiled world of work” (76); it is the table we set on a day set apart, anticipating goodness. On the Sabbath we will sit down with one another and appreciate good food that we have prepared ahead of time, and good fellowship that we have invited in to our lives.

Sabbath meals are not the hurried kind, the kind we throw together out of necessity. Nor is it forced or “religious.” It is, again, a feast prepared with our eyes open and our senses alive; delighting in God. David Ford describes it well:

All the senses are engaged in a good feast. We taste, touch, smell, see, hear. Salvation as health is here vividly physical. Anything that heals and enhances savoring the world through our senses may feed into a salvation that culminates in feasting…Jesus went to meals, weddings and parties and had a feast centered ethic…that combination of sharing and celebrating is, perhaps, the most radical of all the implications of the teaching and practice of Jesus (quoted, 79).

I love how Allender describes Jesus in this chapter: “Jesus is the presence of superabundance…” (79). The Sabbath is a day to consciously live in, bask in, this “superabundance.”

After reading this chapter, I pulled out a new recipe I had wanted to try (Chicken with a Mango salsa, in case you are wondering) and never was I more aware of what I was doing then that day when I prepared that meal. I was so aware of texture and color. I consciously took time to actually feel what I was doing and was caught up in the rich smells: fresh cilantro, ripe mango, ginger, garlic, lime. I took extra care in setting the table for our family and guests. I searched for a toast/blessing that would fit the occasion and would express what I was feeling:

Thanksgiving
By Ralph Waldo Emerson

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

It was a completely different experience from start to finish because of the “noticing” I experienced at every step, and the gratitude I felt for God’s “superabundance”, and I understood more clearly how this is a part of Sabbath: “the stunning simplicity of learning to see again” (Jurgen Mottman, 67) and taste again!

The Sabbath calls us out of auto-pilot. It calls us out of routine and isolation; it says, “Don’t just eat on-the-run,” have a shared experience with other human beings and as you have this communal time “…be struck dumb by the beauty of the Trinity” (67).

We live in a day where people are craving; too often though, our senses are misdirected. Our senses “deceive us in thinking we have discovered God only to have found a trace, not the real presence” (74). We live in a day where people are hurting themselves just to feel alive!

We crave reality – both pain and pleasure – so much that many young people cut themselves, saying, “I just want to feel something.” (74)

How this must break the heart of God when we charge ahead, trampling over the 4th commandment calling us to honor a Sabbath day. Right from the beginning He gave us the gift of a day to shake off the dust of the earth and feast on “lavish, sensuous delight” (79).

Allender shares a story at the end of the chapter of a feast he shared with a family in Ethiopia. He writes about the carefully prepared food and then how they ate together. As they ate, the father shared stories about each of his children. He was so proud of them and their “feats of bravery, wisdom and kindness” and the kids beamed as he talked about them.

Allender asks: What would it be like to hear a father talk about you with such joy?

“What if the Sabbath is creating space to hear the Father speak to us as his beloved as he serves us as the Host? The day is ours, given to us, by the Trinity for our entry into the wild wonder of Jesus’ love for us” (80).

The Sabbath calls me to plan a feast, to think it through, to do the work before the day, to surprise others and myself with something good. The Sabbath says, invite some people and mix in some weary travelers, and see the beauty of things together: “the flowers and the sunset, a painting or a vase or a beloved person with unintentional/unexpected pleasure” (67)

So feast! It is a rumor of things to come…

— Teresa Klassen

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