Feasts in the Bible

Thanksgiving2014

This week, Americans of different faiths celebrate Thanksgiving, our civil holy day, and gather around a table with family members and friends for a feast to offer thanks to God for all the blessings in their lives. The holiday also reminds us as Catholics how thanksgiving and feasts are central to our faith.

Throughout the Bible, feasts play a central role. In the book of Genesis, we read in the Creation account how God rested on the seventh day, establishing it as a day set aside for spiritual renewal. Thus the Sabbath became the original religious festival, the prototype of all the feasts.

The prophet Isaiah foretold a day when the Lord would bring peace and unity to all the peoples of the world. He imagined that day as a banquet, a feast of rich food and wine at which all would rejoice in the salvation offered by the Lord (Isaiah 25:6-9).

From the Gospels, we know that Jesus was formed by the feasts, and his life revolved around them, as he offered prayers and thanksgiving to the Father. We know that he went to the synagogue for worship every Sabbath (Luke 4:15), and it was his family’s custom to go “to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover” (Luke 2:41-42). The Gospels also show Jesus celebrating the Feast of Booths (John 7:2) and the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22).

In his Gospel, Saint Luke arranges his narrative of Jesus’s ministry around a succession of ten banquets, beginning with the dinner hosted by Levi the tax collector and ending with the post-resurrection supper at Emmaus.

The Gospel’s pre-eminent feast, of course, is the Last Supper, at which Jesus established the Eucharist as his memorial, to be observed till the end of time. The Last Supper took place as Jesus gathered his apostles with him to celebrate the Passover meal. The Passover was a solemn feast dedicated to the remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Now at each Mass, we gather around the table of the altar and offer thanksgiving for Jesus’s gift of the Eucharist, and that meal, that feast, offers us true freedom, as we receive Jesus, the Lamb of God, in our lives and then are called to share his love with others.

The angel says in Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” and it was at a wedding feast, in Cana, that Jesus performed his first miracle (John 2:1-11). Many of Jesus’ parables are told in the context of a banquet or wedding feast as well. For example, upon the return of the prodigal son, the father celebrates with the fatted calf (Luke 15:11-32). The kingdom of God is likened to a wedding banquet to which many are called (Matthew 22:1-14), and we are cautioned to be like the wise virgins who kept their lamps lit awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13).

After Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, the apostles continued to celebrate the Eucharist, as he had commanded them, and the members of the new Church gathered together for “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42) at Mass, just as we do today. The Eucharist, the memorial of Jesus’s death and resurrection where the central event of our salvation becomes truly present, is the banquet at the center of every Christian feast.

Like Jesus, our lives revolve around feasts. We celebrate days on the liturgical calendar, but also birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Gathered in prayer around the table in thanksgiving with family and friends, we are reminded of God’s many blessings to us, and we also anticipate the joy of the heavenly feast, the eternal banquet to which our Father invites us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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