Feasting and Fasting

One of my favourite stories is of the distinguished chef of a very distinguished restaurant in Paris, France.

He was once asked what was the finest meal had ever eaten. This is the story he told:

“It was the day the U.S. Army liberated Paris, towards the end of World War II. I was a teenager at the time. We had had very little to eat for a long, long time. An American GI took pity on me, and shared his K rations with me, out in the street. It is still the most memorable meal of my life.”

Perhaps there’s a lesson for us in this tale. How much we appreciate the good things of life doesn’t always come from how luxurious they are. It also depends on how ready we are to receive them. Sometimes, we never know how good a thing has been for us, until we lose it.

Which brings up the subject of Lent and fasting.

There are two basic ways of approaching life. One is to go first for the feast, and the next day have the hangover. It is the approach of ‘buy now, pay later’ that we see so often in the modern world, and which is constantly advertised to us on television. ‘If I see it, I’ve got to have it’—whether it’s cabbage patch dolls, ‘Tickle me Elmo’ or Pokemon for our children, or furniture with deferred payments, sex without marriage, rewards without achievement, million dollar lotteries and quiz shows for the older folk. For that style of life, the hangover is always waiting.

The second approach is to fast before we feast. It’s the message of the season of Lent, even of Holy Week, before we come to resurrection and Easter. Indeed, without that prior discipline, the feast of Easter loses an enormous part of its impact. It’s when we come, faithful but sorrowing to the tomb, thinking that our Lord is no more, that our surprise and joy become full as we meet him.

It’s not only in the ceremonies of the Christian year that we see this pattern. It applies to life as well. Saint Paul’s instruction is to “Owe no man anything, but to love one another”. It’s an attitude of giving before getting, of discipline before reward, of hunger before satisfaction.

You’re never going to see such a way of life advertised on your television. Just the same, it might be a good idea to give it a try.

– Anglican Messenger, March 2000