Monday, September 30, 2019
Feast and fast. . .
In the liturgy, when every Sunday is a feast day, there is no normal except the feast. This may seem to be a little problem but the reality is that when a Sunday in Advent is not distinguished from a Sunday after Christmas or Epiphany or a Sunday in Lent or a Sunday after Easter or a Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity, take or pick), there is no calendar to see or experience except in the words you hear read (and hopefully preached). I grew up in an era in which it was nearly impossible to be there for worship and distinguish the time of the church year without referencing the bulletin or Ashby calendar on the wall. In my day, that meant a rather low church version of the Divine Service (even on Easter). We had no ashes on Ash Wednesday and no palms on Palm Sunday. Of course, we had the Sacrament first quarterly and later monthly so the norm was also Word alone.
Today it is more likely to find every Sunday a feast day with few things to add to those special days on the church calendar. I remember visiting a parish and wondering what feast day was being celebrated only to find the norm was full entrance procession, Gospel procession, choral anthems plus, etc. The congregation even sang the Our Father (unfortunately to the Malotte version as if the pews were full of soloists). I wondered what might possibly be added for the more solemn feasts but could not think of anything.
Some time later I began to realize that this is in part the influence of a culture in which every day is conceived of as a day of indulgence. While this might not meant great ceremony, it does mean great indulgence -- self-indulgence. Eating out is no longer special but the norm and with restaurants delivering food to the door we do not even need to dress up to feast upon the fatted calf. We do what we want when we want it without saving much for special occasions. We may not be formal in dress or demeanor but we no longer feel constrained by anything and indulge ourselves because we believe we deserve nothing less.
The church's calendar was once an influence over what happened in the home. In everything from determining seedtime and harvest, the church year was as much an influence as the weatherman or the Farmer's Almanac. It did not stop there. Penitential seasons were reflected in the muted tone of the family's life in the home. The extras of desserts and special foods were replaced regularly by lighter meals and fish on Fridays and even times of fasting. In contrast, the feasts were accompanied by extravagant foods and large gatherings of family and friends. Easter was lived out in the home with unique and special foods and by a table spread designed to be shared.
All of this was occasioned by an article on dieting called the No S-Diet. Snacks, sweets, and seconds are limited to days beginning with "S" -- Saturdays and Sundays. Other days could be added (birthdays, anniversaries, civil holidays, and church feast days). The inventor reasoned this through from looking at how we have lived down through the centuries but the interesting idea is how this connects with the rhythm of the church year and how that calendar influences our lives at home. I am not recommending the diet or the book but I am intrigued about how such an approach ties the church to the home and the home reflects our piety.
The regular rhythm of the church year has been the connection between feast and fast. Lutherans may have challenged the idea of a legislated fast but we certainly do not reject the benefit of fasting, of living a more restrained life -- especially at the table. Fasting is now more tied to fad diets and other approaches to diet and exercise -- especially among those spiritual but not religious -- than it is tied to our faith and life together as God's people. Rome has reduced required fasting down to just two days per year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the past there were days all throughout the year in which Christian people exercised some restraint and then other days in which they indulged themselves. Even without our own Lutheran calendar Christmas is twelve days and not simply that moment when we unwrap our gifts. Holy Week is observed every day and not simply on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter extends to the Monday through Wednesday following. Pentecost as a vigil.
Our society encourages us to have whatever we want, whenever we want it -- delivered to our door in minutes! Just do it, eat it, and enjoy it -- including “sinful” things! We no longer eat fruit or vegetables in season but strawberries are available all year long -- imported from that part of the world where they might be in season. If we cannot find what we want at a local store, everything on earth is available shipped to our door through the gift of the internet. From chocolate to desserts to whatever, we are bound by little or nothing in our pursuit of what we want, when we want it..
We need help to order our lives, to restore a sense of rhythm in which feast contrasts with fast, and rest with work and leisure. We need the help of the liturgical calendar to influence this rhythm and help us extend some order to our self-indulgent lives. This surely makes sense to any Christian who recalls the calendar of the Old Testament and its New Testament adaptation but it does more than makes sense, it helps us bear good fruit in our piety and practice of the faith. This is one of the ways we teach the faith to our children and help them begin to order their lives early on -- rest and work, school and play, feasting and fast. What do you think?