By AC Alivizatos
I love basketball. Specifically, I love cheering for the Los Angeles Lakers. A moment that remains fixed in my mind was in 2010, when Kobe Bryant stood on the announcer’s table with his arms outstretched as confetti rained from the rafters. He was physically expressing the jubilation so many of us Laker fans were feeling. However, now in 2018, Kobe is gone, and the Lakers will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. We Laker fans aren’t feeling much joy these days. The champagne ran out, and the party eventually died. Happiness has a way of fading away, doesn’t it?
Last week, Will wrote that fasting is a way in which we can dramatize the gospel. We live in a culture where we have greater access to comfort and luxury and yet are plagued by astounding rates of depression and anxiety. Rather than simply enjoying the fruits of our material wealth and technological prowess, we make them part of our identity. Instead of our identity, security, and happiness being rooted in what God the Father accomplished through His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, our sense of self-worth gets wrapped up in things or experiences we can buy and consume. And as is often said around here, “Idols never fail to fail.” In other words, only God can carry our burdens; idols will always crush under that weight. One way I think that we see this is through the widespread mental health issues, drug abuse, and sexual immorality afflicting our nation. We have more material blessings than has been enjoyed at any point in human history, and yet, we have less happiness!
There’s usually a lightbulb moment that takes place for many of us as we begin to see just how deeply embedded consumerism is in every sphere of our lives. And when that light goes off in our heads, the temptation can be to run as far as we can in the other direction. After all, who wants to be compromised? What friend of God wants to be a “friend with the world?” We don’t like gray. We like black and white. You’re either Herod or John the Baptist. You’re either drowning in excess, or you eat locusts and honey. And if that’s the case, who wants to be Herod? The more I fast, the more I am resisting the idolatry of my culture, right? So I’m just going to fast as much as I can, eating only for basic survival and health. Self-denial becomes an end in and of itself. Asceticism becomes synonymous with holiness.
But how does Jesus fit into that paradigm? (Side note: Why are we always asking how Jesus fits into a paradigm? Shouldn’t we be asking how our paradigms fit into Christ?) If anything, Jesus seems to almost be the opposite. Some scholars note that he “ate and drank his way through the gospels.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking and his enemies called him a glutton and a winebibber. (Someone actually called Jesus a glutton to his face! LOLWUT!?)
Furthermore, what was Jesus’ first miracle? The first time that Christ uses his power over creation in a miraculous way to announce the coming kingdom…he turns water into wine so that the party could go on (Jn. 2:1–12)! What does that say about the kingdom he came to bring? It will be a kingdom marked by joy and celebration. I could be wrong, but I think that in one sense, it’s like a party that never stops.
We honestly have no idea what it’s like to experience that. The high moments in our lives are always eventually replaced by low points. Mountaintop experiences never last forever; in fact, most of us live down in the valley for most of our day-to-day lives. Even when we do gather with people we love and celebrate joyous occasions, the awareness of sin’s reality is continually at the door to creep back into our consciousness. With smartphones in our pocket always ready to tell us where our attention should be focused next, we are always one notification away from the party being over. Happiness and celebration inevitably give way to grief and sorrow.
But what would it be like to live in a place where the party never dies? Imagine living in a world always marked by joy and celebration centered around Christ and his love. You’re always surrounded by loved ones, and your Father has lavished upon you every good gift he has in store, chief of which is his presence among his people. That’s really good news, right?
Yes! And it is good news that our world is literally dying to hear. How can we announce this good news? More than just using words, how can we embody the good news of a coming party that will never end? How can we invite guests to come to know the Life of the party?
Counterintuitively, one way is through fasting, as Will pointed out last week. By declaring, “I will go without,” we are saying that we can go without because of the one who emptied himself out to bring us the fullness of life. But another way is by balancing fasting with feasting. By declaring, “I will happily enjoy this abundance as a gift from the hand of God,” we are saying that though we can go without now, in the kingdom we will not go without. Although billions of people today under every form of government suffer loss in all kinds of different ways, there is a coming government where no one will ever experience loss of any kind again. The party will never die. The celebration of Christ and his goodness will never stop. Joy will never give way to sorrow again.
But even more than that, there is something else beautiful about feasting. To understand the joy of feasting, we have to take a quick look again at the sorrow of fasting. When Jesus was questioned as to why his disciples didn’t fast, what did he say? Like he usually does, he responded with a question: “How can the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” ‘They’ll fast when I’m gone,’ he is saying. ‘There’s no need to fast while I’m here’ (Mt. 9:15). In other words, experiencing hunger as a result of fasting creates a physical manifestation of our spiritual longing for Christ. The absence of food creates a hunger that reminds me of the absence of Christ and the hunger I should have for him. We crave for Christ to return to us.
But did you know the feeling is mutual? During his last meal with his disciples, Jesus told them, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mt. 26:29). In a sense, you could say Christ is fasting. He misses us too! But the day will come when we will be reunited with the lover of our souls in a joyous celebration!
In the meantime, we can anticipate that everlasting feast by feasting now. Transitioning from fasting to feasting, we go from experiencing the affliction of longing for Christ to enjoying a small taste of what it will be like to be with him forever in a new world where the food and wine never run out, the party never dies, and the joy never fades.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tomorrow, we’ll feature a post on a particular type of feast we’ll be celebrating together at Redemption Tempe, a Seder dinner—a necessary and enjoyable read!