Strange Feast

Strange Feast

Eighth Sunday of the Year. Fr John Farrell links the Eucharistic feast of the Mass to the observances of Lent.

Given the poor quality of the altar wine and the thinness of the fare, any eucharist tastes more like a fast than a feast. And yet we always say that we ‘celebrate’ the Mass. Although it is a strange celebration which has as its refrain

When we eat this bread and drink this cup
we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus,
until you come in glory.

In the depths of the sacrament of the real presence is there, at its heart, an abiding loss?

In today’s Gospel, in a passage which seems to be inciting Christ’s disciples to feast rather than fast, we have the first prediction of the Passion. Mark’s Gospel is dominated by the shadow of the cross and here in chapter two, as opposition to Jesus is just beginning, Jesus says:

The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast, in that day.

The gospel story opens with a clear differentiation between the behaviour of Jesus’s disciples and those of John the Baptist. As the two masters are also contrasted elsewhere.

For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt 11.18).

Jesus describes himself as the bridegroom of the Covenant between God and his People. It is inappropriate for guests to fast at a wedding feast. This new and eternal covenant is the completion of God’s covenant fidelity, the solemnization of all his promises fulfilled.

Hence the contrast between the old wine, where fasting is proper for a time of unmet expectations and unfulfilled hopes, and the new wine of presence and grace and a fulfilment which exceeds the promises. The two are incompatible, charged with different dynamisms, different powers. If mixed both are destroyed.

And yet they resemble each other — fasting, almsgiving and prayer of an unfulfilled vintage and of Christ’s disciples. They look alike but belong to different textures of life. They are woven into different fabrics of experience.

All through Mark’s Gospel we are pushed and prodded to see the difference; to enter into it. Just after the first explicit foretelling of the Passion, Jesus turns to his ‘wedding guests’ and says

If any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me?
Whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it’ (Mk 8.34).

This strange transforming feast where loss is gain. This strange feast of the Last Supper. This strange feast of every eucharist on earth. This strange feast, in heaven, of the marriage of the Lamb that was slain.

This Wednesday we begin out Lenten fasting as our Christian feasting. We do not just celebrate his loss, his loss of self, his sacrifice. We enter into it and join our losses, our sacrifices into his.

I appeal to you brethren by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12.1).

We are nourished at each eucharist by the food of his loss, ‘poured out’ and ‘given up’. And feasting with him we offer over ourselves as part of his transforming work.

Lenten fasting is our feasting, as is almsgiving and prayer — a three course meal.

Readings: Hos 2:14-15,19-20 | 2 Cor 3:1-6 | Mark 2:18-22

fr. John Farrell, former Prior Provincial and Master of Students, and is now based at Holy Cross, Leicester, from where he exercises a wide-ranging preaching ministry.