1 a : an elaborate and usually abundant meal often accompanied by a ceremony or entertainment: BANQUET
B (1) : something that gives unusual or abundant enjoyment
(2) : ABUNDANCE, PROFUSION
2 : a periodic religious observance commemorating an event or honoring a deity, person, or thing
Easter is so close I can almost taste it—I say that not owing solely to moments during Lent I would have committed a felony assault for a forbidden morsel. As is my custom, I bit off more Lenten disciplines than I could chew, revealing my weakness. Always looking for personal achievement and never quite reaching it, I limp to the finish with neither the pride of glowing success nor quiet, consistent faithfulness. But whereas I used to hang my head at such admissions, this year feels different. I’m not advocating laxity in Lenten practice; I merely acknowledge that I have not lived up to my own expectations, a common internal theme of the season.
Like many, I began Lent with a series of goals that relied on my efforts and stellar record of consistency. Before the first Sunday, life had torpedoed those goals with more prejudice than a target ship in a Naval exercise. It was God’s will instead to turn my attention to the large elephant in my proverbial room and force me to address him (his name is Gary; turns out he’s a fine fellow).
I grew up in one house from ages five to eighteen, when I left for college. When I drove my sister’s Chevy to Tallahassee, I never expected it would be my final exit from my childhood home, but that’s the way life throws you. I think back on it now with mixed fondness; it held for me a lovable, shabby charm. Though remembering it now through the eyes of a buyer, it would appear a disaster. The mailbox tilted owing to its regular run-ins with wayward cars; the garage doors were bent, faded, and unusable; a storm window remained broken, a relic from a childhood game of softball gone wrong; the list could go on for hours. All the peccadillos had their origin stories, but the one commonality between them was that my family and I were too occupied with surviving to patch up the broken bits. Over the years things in disrepair became part of the background, invisible to us.
Difficult periods in life need not destroy us to have their way in our lives; they need only cripple our ways of thinking, stunting and stagnating us. The more hidden from sight those wounds, the more destructive. Over the last handful of years, it’s been happening in my life and family. To an outside observer, I would guess things appear fine, if not idyllic. We have been stable by any definition of the word, and honestly that’s a product of intentional effort. But as life has asked new questions of me and mine, the old answers we give create friction in often unexpected ways; and the fallout of that incongruity is a breeding ground for anxiety and stress, animosity and bitterness.
So I began Lent playing in the sandbox of faith: constrained within the safe, sanitary places I would admit I could improve, but deep down knew weren’t that bad. Cue the gracious tsunami that washed me out to sea anyhow. Funny when you pray for change and God’s grace, thinking you’ll have a cool drink of water, and God aims a firehose at you. A fitting description for me this Lent would be “coughing, sputtering, and soaking as I try to regain my feet, a surprised grin plastered across my face.” Old, hardened, outmoded ways of living and thinking have cracked and chipped away until the sand underlying them liquified and began a holy landslide; things have been messy in the aftermath. But in retrospect, cleaning a mess appears far simpler than breaking down a wall; this Lent has been a chaotic blessing, which brings me joyfully to the oncoming season of Easter.
I am still somewhat new at this liturgical year thing, and I must confess: when I learned that Easter was a fifty-day feast, my inner glutton rejoiced. What a perfect excuse to consume all the richness I could, even if that meant harm in the long term? But as this Lent has profoundly changed me, I have dwelt on what feasting means. I’m not sure I would ever use the phrase “being good at Lent”, but I have seen the good of excising habits that distract me from God’s presence. Yet as I mentioned last year during Easter, I struggled to maintain a spirit of feasting throughout the fifty days. I hadn’t properly defined feast, so the confusion made sense.
But I have let feasting float around my mind these last six weeks and here are my thoughts:
The Absence of Fasting does not a Feast Make
Last year, my celebration of Easter consisted largely in picking up with gusto those habits I shed during Lent. While not negative per se, the assumption behind such a practice is that a feast consists in the abundance of things that were previously scarce. With Lenten omissions, those scarcities tended toward carnal things: foods, hobbies, amusements, etc. The focus on these resulted not in abundance, but in a glut: aspects of life which are healthy in moderation become hindrances when given free rein. Large meals, games, and diversions have their place, but fifty days is far too long to maintain that as routine; and in making such things routine, they lose the luster which made them seem abundant.
It is Impossible to Feast Alone
Five minutes’ spared thought for what we celebrate at Easter obliterates all notion of the feast being a personal matter. To merely reverse the practices of Lenten fasting suggests that the feast is about what I do (or rather did not do during the fast). But while I can celebrate it wholeheartedly, Christ’s work was not for me individually. It includes me, but it is in no wise about me. I mustn’t feast solely for my pleasure.
I have had occasion to travel for my job, and there is one aspect I despise more than all others: dining alone. The act of eating, especially in a restaurant with others serving me, feels by nature a social event. Sitting at a table by myself with personal wait staff makes my skin crawl with awkwardness. Perhaps I am anti-social, relying on the crutch of tablemates to mitigate the strangeness of another person playing the role of a servant, but I don’t think so; having lived both sides of such encounters, my most interesting interactions with servers (or customers) happened when we were one-on-one. I always consider such moments as breaking the fourth wall of culture, but when they return to their work and I to my meal, the hollowness of the experience returns.
Feasting is More Than What You Take In
I may leave a great, individual joy unthought of, but in my estimation life’s most awesome things require others’ involvement. When someone I love (or a stranger) performs some unexpected act of kindness, I am transported into a state of delight beyond my own abilities. Likewise, when I give a gift to someone I love, I wait in eager anticipation for its revelation, and am overjoyed to witness their pleasure.
As paradoxical as it may sound, I don’t know that a feast is complete without service. It being Maundy Thursday, perhaps it should not surprise me, as it is the model Jesus gave to His disciples. This is the part of Easter that I have missed: drinking of the abundant joy brought about in Jesus’ triumphant resurrection requires the bringing of that abundant joy to others.
My childhood understanding of Easter was an impoverished cousin of Christmas, as much about eggs and chocolate as about the conquering Lord. As I grew into adulthood, it took on the festal nature it warrants, but came quickly and was over even faster. Last year I sought to find the celebration in the whole season of Easter, but often grasped fruitlessly for how to go about it. This time around, I think I’ve got it!... no, that’s not right either. My dim, flawed understanding of Easter is only one year older, hopefully wiser, but I look forward to the season with more excitement than ever.
In closing, here are a few things I’ll be doing to celebrate, that I hope will inspire you as well:
· Eat good food!
· Welcome friends old and new to my house for dinner
· Playing games with my friends and my children
· Spending time away from work, relaxing
· Devoting time to my children’s favorite activities, even if they aren’t my preferences
· Rejoicing in creation by exploring it (hiking, fishing, etc.)
· Scheming, plotting how I can serve and bless those around me, then carrying out said schemes
· SINGING! Every day, whether or not it sounds good, singing something that praises God