Give Thanks and Celebrate with a Feast

This week our nation celebrates our civil holy day of Thanksgiving, with people across the country gathering with family and friends for a feast to offer thanks to God for all the blessings in their lives. The holiday also reminds us how feasts play a prominent role in our lives as people of faith.

Feasts are found throughout the Bible.  We read in the Creation account how God rested on the seventh day, establishing the Sabbath as the original religious festival and prototype of all the feasts (Genesis 2:2-3).  As a reminder and celebration of how he has provided for his people, God announces various festivals, including the Feast of Booths, saying to them, “you shall gather fruit of majestic trees, branches of palms, and boughs of leafy trees and valley willows. Then for a week you shall make merry before the Lord, your God” (Leviticus 23:40).  Also, the Prophet Isaiah foretells the time when the Lord would bring peace and unity to all the peoples of the world, imagining that day as a banquet, a feast of rich food and wine at which all would rejoice in the salvation offered by the Lord (25:6-9).

Feasts are the setting for key events in Jesus’ life. It was at a wedding feast in Cana that he performed his first miracle (John 2:1-11), and it was in the context of Passover that the Lord would in the Paschal Mystery save his people from the bondage of sin and death. Saint Luke even arranges his Gospel narrative of Jesus’ ministry around a succession of ten banquets, beginning with the dinner hosted by Levi (Matthew) the tax collector and ending with the post-resurrection supper at Emmaus.

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).

“Blessed are those called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). The pre-eminent feast is the Eucharist, which in Greek means “thanksgiving.”  Instituted at the Last Supper, this memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection where the central event of our salvation becomes truly present is at the center of every Christian feast.

As November draws to a close, we begin a new year on the Church’s calendar, pointing toward the new age that begins with God coming to dwell with humanity in Jesus.  Filled with feasts, memorials of saints, and solemnities, each day of the liturgical year forms a kind of catechism that conveys the mysteries of God.  These days help to remake us according to the life of Jesus Christ, a life we are meant celebrate with family and friends and everyone we meet.