The Bible is a story of food. Over and over, food in the biblical story is either the means by which people receive and acknowledge the grace of God or the means by which people declare their rejection of God.
In the beginning, God made us hungry for physical food, and hungry for him. The garden in which God placed the first human beings had plenty of food. Moreover, the Tree of Life offered food as a tangible sign declaring that all life is from God. At this Tree, God met his people face-to-face around food, and its God-given name revealed its sacramental meaning: to show that food is a kind of sacrament of God’s presence, favor, and life.
This is why we feast, and why we must feast Christianly. Food is not simply a thing to enjoy. It is a gift of God for all who bear his image. Because it is a gift, we receive it with thanks. Because it is a gift for all image bearers, we share it with others. As we have received life from God, so we work that others may have life and have it abundantly in Jesus.
But the food that was God’s gift of life and grace quickly became a spiritual battleground, a weapon to use to accuse God of withholding abundant life, and a prize to be seized as a declaration of independence from God. Seeking wisdom and abundant life, Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God wanted to give them, but they did it in their own way on their own authority on their own terms and in their own time. And by doing that (here’s the irony), they rejected the very thing God planned for them to have: wisdom and abundant life.
As a consequence, they unleashed disorder into God’s creation. First, they unleashed disorder in our relationships with God and others. Rather than receive food and all of creation as God’s gift, food and other material things become our hope of happiness. So we seize, and clutch, and hoard, and think mostly of how to get more and keep more. Our anxious grasping comes from not trusting God, and it makes it hard for us to trust others, to love others, and to serve others. Food and other created things are a very unreliable and unsatisfying god. Second, they unleashed disorder in our minds, hearts, and bodies. Rather than enjoy food wisely, we gorge ourselves and waste, and then fantasize about making and having more. By trying to control our lives apart from God, we are controlled by our desires, and our bellies become our god. By trying to make ourselves masters and gods of abundant life, we have become slaves to things, slaves to our bodies, and alienated from God and each other.
The good news is that God has not left us in that disorder of body and soul. This is possible because in the person of Jesus, God has come to us in the body to show us true life in the body. He died in the body to put to death the sins of our body, and he rose from the dead in a glorified body to glorify our bodies. By his Spirit, he gives us the life of his body to us as food, the bread of heaven for the life of the world, to satisfy our deepest hunger.
This is why we fast. Jesus reveals to us and teaches us that we need fasting to move out of the disorder of our relationships and our desires and back toward the order of wisdom and abundant life in him. Jesus gives us hope to believe that fasting and its effects are possible.
What are some of those effects? First, fasting reminds us that we are hungry beings, and that reminder sharpens our spiritual senses. According to author Lauren Winner, fasting helps overcome “the stupor of being sated all the time.” Philosopher and popular teacher Dallas Willard relates that he fasted some time before most speaking engagements so that he would be spiritually prepared and sharp. The sharpening happens because hunger reminds us that we are dependent, and that realization puts us in the posture of being ready to receive what God wants to give us.
Second, fasting sets us free from being slaves to our bodies and to our desires. If your god is your belly, you serve a cruel master! But when our awareness of dependence and hunger leads us to turn toward Christ, we discover that we do not live by bread alone but by the word of God made flesh to become the food and drink that will satisfy us forever. When you discover that Christ can sustain and satisfy you, then you are free from bondage, the bondage of believing that your body cannot be controlled. You might not realize this the first time you try. But like all disciplines in life, this one gets easier. In Jesus, we must fast in all kinds of ways (not merely abstaining from food) because he has come to save us from the disorder of our bodies and souls as far as the curse is found.
Jesus himself is also the greatest reason to feast. Jesus reveals to us that the Christian life is not merely saying “no” to things. We say “no” to evil in order to say “yes” to what is good. We fast so that we may learn how to feast rightly. We fast to learn that our deepest hunger and God’s satisfaction for that hunger in Christ the bread from heaven, and we feast Christianly to cultivate the faith and gratitude that orders our bodies and our desires toward Christ.
It is not surprising that God puts eating and drinking at the heart of Christian worship in the Lord’s Supper. This is our Tree of Life, now served to us and given to us in the form of God in the flesh. In this sacrament, Jesus gives us himself, and he trains us how to treat food and all created things when we follow what he did: we receive them from God, we give thanks, and we eat and drink with rejoicing. In Jesus, we must feast because feasting Christianly is a revelation to the world that our we are hungry beings made for God, and that our deepest hunger finds its deepest satisfaction in the abundant life of Jesus, the bread from heaven who gives life to the world.
This article was orginally a devotional given by Rev. Mike Farley of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri. The devotional was delivered at 'Fast and Feast" on July 25, 2015. That devotional is based partly on the book, "Blessed are the Hungry."