The first Thanksgiving my husband and I were married, I thought it would be a good idea to host our families for dinner. I didn’t know how to cook a turkey. We didn’t have a dishwasher. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t exactly built for big holiday meals. But I was determined to make it work. So on a crisp Thursday in November, we crammed 21 people into our tiny apartment.
People sat on the floor, on the couch, and at our two-person IKEA table, their plates heaped high with turkey and gravy and stuffing. And while I remember the joy, laughter, and excitement of having our home filled with family and friends, I didn’t understand the significance of that feast. Sure, I wanted others to feel welcomed and to spend intentional time reflecting on all we had to be thankful for. But underneath all of that, I wanted to prove I could pull this dinner off. Looking back, I realize that meal––as special as it was––was about me.
Over a decade later, I still fall into the temptation to make my hosting center on me. I crave approval and recognition. But God has been teaching me what it means to practice biblical feasting. What does it look like to eat and drink and host a meal in a way that glorifies God and serves others? How can we feast in a way that honors God and shows true hospitality? Here are four key truths to remember as we feast this season.
1. Biblical feasting points to God, not ourselves.
At the heart of right feasting, we remember our God. Consider the feasts throughout Scripture. For example, in Exodus 12–13, God commands the Israelites to observe Passover as a way to remember what the Lord did for them in Egypt. In Esther 9, the Feast of Purim is instituted as a day to recall when sorrow turned to gladness, mourning into a holiday (Ex. 9:22).
We can do the same. Rather than entertaining as a way to perform in front of others, our meals can point to the goodness of God. We can still serve excellent food, use fancy dishes, and cultivate a place of beauty. But the posture of our hearts must not be self-exaltation. Instead, we exalt the only One who can fill our hungry souls (Ps. 107:9).
Rather than entertaining as a way to perform in front of others, our meals can point to the goodness of God.
For the self-critical among us (like me), we tend to make our feasting about us by disparaging our efforts. We set the platter of turkey down and apologize that it’s dried out. We confess the meal doesn’t look as perfect as we envisioned or say sorry a hundred times when dinner takes longer than planned. There may be a place for apology and explanation. But are we doing it for the good of those at our table or as a way to control what others think of us?
Before we speak, let’s consider if the apology is for the good of our neighbor and honors God (if so, then go forth and apologize) or to manage our image and protect our pride. Often, our words would be better used to focus the conversation on God’s provision, rather than on our preparation.
2. Biblical feasting generously invites others in.
Jesus ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 5:30). He welcomed the “wrong” crowd, even allowing prostitutes to approach him at the table (Luke 7:36–50). Jesus was more concerned about welcoming others into the kingdom of God than impressing those around him.
What would our tables look like if we practiced this radical hospitality? Maybe we would step out of the comfort of our homes and spend time in “unacceptable” places, like a friend of mine who started a ministry building friendships with women at a strip club. Maybe we would welcome the neighbor who isn’t the easiest to get along with or the family member no one wants to be around.
Romans 15:7 calls us to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” What does that look like at your table and in your community this year? In the wake of a global pandemic, answering this question may require us to think creatively. All around us, people crave connection and welcome. Christians should be the first to welcome others, because we have experienced the welcome of Christ.
3. Biblical feasting practices delight, not gluttony or drunkenness.
At creation, God didn’t make a garden with only the nutritional essentials. He gave us an abundance to consume, setting Adam and Eve in Eden, a name meaning “pleasure or delight.” He gave trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). God generously designed a world made for human flourishing, not just subsistence. And it was good.
But we twist the gift of food through gluttony and drunkenness. Eating and drinking in excess go against the very purpose of our feasting. What we eat and drink can become idols. And when we create idols, we’ve lost sight of who God is and missed the enjoyment of his good gifts.
Paul writes in Philippians 3:19 that for enemies of Christ, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” There’s not a formula for knowing when we’ve crossed that line from delight to gluttony. But we must practice discernment in how we eat. Are we eating and drinking as if we’re enemies of Christ, or his followers? When we feast, is our belly our god, or do we honor the true God by rightly delighting in what he’s given?
When we feast, is our belly our god, or do we honor the true God by rightly delighting in what he’s given?
4. Biblical feasting looks forward to the eternal feast.
Feasts are not only a delightful way to celebrate the holidays, but also an opportunity to anticipate the better feast to come. Tim Chester encourages us in A Meal with Jesus:
The Christian community is the beginning and sign of God’s coming world––and no more so than when we eat together. Our meals are a foretaste of the future messianic banquet. Our meals reveal the identity of Jesus. Our meals are a proclamation and demonstration of God’s good news. (61)
Our feasting now looks forward to the day when we will savor the marriage supper of the Lamb. In Revelation 19, the apostle John envisions a vast multitude, crying out in praise, “for the marriage of the Lamb has come” (Rev. 19:7). And those who are invited to join that celebration feast are blessed (v. 9).
As believers, the church, the bride of Christ, we will one day gather together to savor that marriage supper. We will join in the celebration and be part of that worshiping multitude. Until then, we feast here and now, holding fast to the promise of what’s to come. As we point to God, welcome others in, delight in God’s gifts, and taste the eternal feast, we declare our hope for that glorious day when we will dine, fully restored, with God himself.