First Presbyterian Church of Hallock, Minn.
Adam J. Copeland, pastor
Mar. 14, 2010
Feasting After Forgiveness
Joshua 5:9-12, Luke 15:11b-32
Have you noticed that cooking is really the popular thing these days? The Food Network is thriving, cookbooks have become bestsellers, and men as well as women are taking pride in their culinary skills. A Hollywood movie even came out recently called Julie and Julia, about a girl named Julie who cooked, in a year, every single recipe from Julia Child’s famous bestseller: Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
It’s rather ironic, in an age where families seldom sit around a dinner table to eat a leisurely meal, that cooking has gained such popularity. But it has. (Though who can say if we really love cooking more now, or if we just long for a world with fewer meals interrupted by sports practices, meetings, and the television.)
Sure, on a basic level we eat food to give our bodies energy, but how we eat tells us something about our culture and values.
Today’s short scene from Joshua 5 is an eating scene, a feasting scene. We read, “While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening of the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.”
As the Presbyterian Women who are studying Joshua this year know, the Israelites have had quite a journey to get to Gilgal. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Forty years! Moses started the trek, but later God calls Joshua in to finish the journey. Each one of these years, God provided manna for them in the desert. A type of food — probably a bit bland — but good enough to see them through. Six days a week they collected manna every morning and then, on Friday, they collected a little more to hold them through the sabbath on Saturday. For forty years God provided. Day after day, God fed them, manna in the wilderness.
But now, in Joshua 5, the Israelites finally get to the promised land. After forty years of the kids whining every morning “are we there yet” the parents can finally say, “Thank God, we are here.” The promised land.
And what do they do? How do they remember God’s faithfulness that saw them through even when even when wandered far from God? Well, they ate. The Israelites held the Passover feast. It was the right time of the year — the fourteenth day of the right month — and so they held the feast, commemorating the day God delivered them in Egypt. Joshua doesn’t go into the details of the Passover in these verses, but they had it — a ritual feast to remember God’s faithfulness to them since they were slaves in Egypt, a feast also, to commemorate a new beginning in the promised land.
It seems like every business these days — whether a restaurant or retail store — tries to make a name for itself in a unique way. And would you believe it, running races are the same way. There are so many marathon and half marathon races around the US, that organizers try to find a way to give their race a special claim to fame. Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon, for instance, has a course along the river that is almost all downhill. The Fargo Marathon boasts that it’s been held seven years straight on seven different routes (that’s what happens when you have a May marathon in a city that floods each spring). But the Sioux City Marathon has a claim to fame with hints of our Joshua reading. If you manage to run the grueling 26.2 mile course, right beside the finish line is a restaurant and bar. After the race, all runners and their guests eat free. In that restaurant, though, is not just free pizza and beer, but an atmosphere of true euphoria. Runners happily swap stories of how their race went. Those who cheered them on share pictures of the race route. Everyone who wears a finishers medal, wears it proudly. There’s no strangers among those who run the Sioux City Marathon, and they have a feast at the finish to prove it.
A marathon is nothing compared to what the Israelites went through. 26 miles? How about 40 years? But when they finally arrived, God “rolled away the disgrace of” their previous life in Egypt. And they remembered God. They feasted.
Our New Testament passage today doesn’t start with a feast, but an unruly younger brother. You know the type. This brother asked his father to give him all his inheritance, and he went off and squandered it “in dissolute living.” That was his choice, we might say. You make your bed, you sleep in it.
Then there was a famine in the land, and life got pretty tough for this guy. He got a no-good job working in the fields feeding the pigs — the absolute worst kind of a job for a Jew who thought pigs were ritually unclean. One day, when he found himself so hungry that he was wishing he could eat the pig slop, he figured he had to swallow his pride and go back to his father. Even his father’s servants had full bellies. He didn’t want to be welcomed back as a son, he just wanted a job and a square meal.
But when he finally made it back home, when his father saw him coming he took off running down the driveway and he hugged him as tight as he could. The son said, “Father, I have sinned, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father paid no heed. He put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. And he killed the fatted calf. He threw a feast. And they celebrated all night long.
Now that older brother. He was in the field and he heard the party and asked a slaved what was going on. When he heard the reason for the celebration, the older son refused to go in. So the father came out and heard his case.
“For all these years I have worked like a slave for you, never once disobeying you, and you’ve never thrown me a party. But when this son of yours throws his money away and does who knows what else and comes crying home a failure, you welcome him back?”
Then the father explained, “You are always with me, all that I have is yours. But we had to celebrate, we had to feast, for your brother who was dead is now alive, he was lost but has been found.”
From the point of view of the older brother, this story is a difficult one. He finds out life isn’t fair. Justice just isn’t what he wants it to be. But the parable isn’t about that. Instead, the father goes out to welcome his son — both sons actually — home. That love is unconditional. Forgiveness is given without question and then it’s time for feasting.
Many of our feasts happen at our homes. Family who live far away come back for holidays and there is a feast –Thanksgiving turkey, Easter ham, St. Patrick’s Day corn beef and cabbage. These feasts can be truly holy times for generations to share.
But, if we’re honest, family feasts can be difficult too. No family is without its complications. Sibling rivalries are not just the stuff of the Bible, but still common today. Feasts can also bring out our brokenness — that brother who never comes home, that step sibling who holds a grudge, and those parents who just can’t understand while her daughter lives that way.
We have our feasts. We try to model them after those in the Bible — full of thanksgiving to God, full of forgiveness — but we can’t quite get there on this side of heaven. One day, we will all be feasting with God at the heavenly banquet table. Our differences will still be there, but our disagreements will fade. Forgiveness will reign. And the food — it’ll be out of this world.
The feasts we have on this side of heaven, even though they can’t be quite perfect, sometimes give us a glimpse of heaven on earth and we see a foretaste of what is to come. I think of churches that serve meals to the homeless, welcoming all with open arms just as the father does in today’s parable. Or even here in Hallock, when we eat together — at a potluck, or at a catered meal like the one this wednesday — could we not do so with the welcome of Christ on our mind, the love of God on our hearts, and an openness that the Spirit might be moving in our very own fellowship hall?
Such glimpses of forgiveness and feasting do occur in our world today. These are not just the lore of the Bible, but our call to seek. The film, Babette’s Feast, depicts just such forgiveness and feasting. Set in 19th century Denmark, the film tells the story of a servant named Babette, who wins the lottery, and and decides to spend her winnings hosting an amazing feast for her bosses (these two mean sisters) and all their acquaintances. All the guests are on the older side, and they have baggage — the two sisters, daughters of former pastor in town, have lived all their lives scared to really enjoy the pleasures of this world. Two other guests attend, old friends, who got in a fight years ago and stopped speaking to each other. An older gentleman guest has never confessed his love for a certain woman. And so on.
In the film, this motley crew attends the dinner pledging not to say a word about the food; they are so set in their ways they want to have as glum a time as they can. But Babette’s meal is beyond anything they had imagined, and the guests lose themselves in the spirit of evening. Babette’s winnings have supplied ingredients for delicacies never before served in their small down, and the delicious wine and course after course of heavenly food breaks down their sullen personalities and petty grievances. By the end of the film, they are all swept up by Babette’s generosity and cooking to a new place of forgiveness, love, and joy.
Food is a large part of Babette’s magic, but it’s not all. The movie implies something far more spiritual is at work as well.
Sure, food — cooking shows, cookbooks, and delicacies — is more popular today than ever. But just delicious food and good company isn’t enough for a heavenly meal. Joshua knows, and Jesus explains in Luke, that forgiveness makes a feast a true celebration. May we all feast on the good news that God forgives, and celebrate the heavenly banquet, forgiving others in return. Amen.