Several years ago, when I was on staff at a church, I went to a pastor’s retreat hosted by some friends of ours. It was one of the best retreats I’ve ever been to. It was relaxing. It was fun. And I can’t even begin to describe the food. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. And that wasn’t all.
The place was magnificent…it sat on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon in Claude, Texas. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it is a 5-star resort in a one-horse town. They had just finished remodeling the rooms, and they did an outstanding job. The main building, as well as the two wings of rooms sat on the rim of the canyon, looking down into the river-worn land. The patio off of the main house faced east, so if you got up early in the morning, you could watch the deer eat out of the feeder as the sun rose over the canyon. What a perfect setting to relax and drink in the goodness of God.
I had been reading a book by Mark Buchanan at the time, The Rest of God
, which talks about the loss of the Sabbath in the Christian’s life and how to get it back. It was something that I’d become familiar with. Being on staff at a mega-church doesn’t always afford a minister a Sabbath rest. While I wasn’t the senior pastor, I did have duties on Sunday morning, and even though we got our 2 days off every week (and our senior pastor did encourage us to rest and take our Sabbath), it was still hard to truly enjoy one as a day of rest.
One of the chapters in Buchanan’s book talked about feasting, and during the next few days at the retreat, I discovered what has been lost among our food-centric society, the art of feasting. Because we have such an abundance of food, we rarely “feast” anymore in what I would consider the true sense of the word. We gorge ourselves, feeding ourselves until we’re sick, and stuff ourselves with food that is really bad for us much of the time. I wouldn’t qualify that as “feasting”. I’d call that overeating at best, gluttony at its worst.
When our nation and world were more agrarian in nature, people would eat well or not depending on how the harvest was for that year. People knew times that were lean and times that were abundant. When times were lean, you ate what you had and when you could. But when times were abundant, it was time to celebrate! You could only store so much food, and it would only last for so long. That’s when you feasted. You celebrated the plenty that was in the storehouse. You celebrated the food. But part of the feasting was that you didn’t celebrate alone. You feasted with family and friends…neighbors and co-laborers. Feasting was part of the community. You worked together for the harvest, you endured the trials of the season together, and you celebrated it together as well.
That’s what happened at this pastor’s retreat. There was another pastor there with his wife, my wife and I, and the host couple. We talked about what God was doing in our lives. We shared a meal together. We laughed. We shared our struggles. We ate. We talked about challenges that God had brought us through and that we were in the midst of. We told stories of our lives. We laughed harder. We ate more. Did I mention that we ate? A LOT?!
These are things (even years later) I remember about the retreat:
I remember connecting with my wife and with other people on a deep level.
I remember laughing until my sides hurt and tears were streaming down my face.
I remember the joy of the fellowship with other believers.
I remember intense moments of sharing over common struggles and concerns.
I remember how good the food was and how I enjoyed not only it, but the company with which it was shared.
I remember praying together, not just over a meal, but over our lives and the blessings that came out of those prayers and shared moments together.
I remember the sunrises and the atmosphere of a place dripping with the presence of God.
I never felt guilty for eating so much. (I did mention that we ate a lot, right? And that the food was incredible?!) There was an abundance of food, but there was also something that went beyond eating. There was fellowship and connection. There was a sense of God’s presence among us. There was a common bond and an enjoyment of each other, the time we shared together, and the food that we ate. It may have been one of the few times in my life that I would label the time we spent together, not just as eating, but we were celebrating those few days together, feasting at the table of the Lord.
Wouldn’t it be great if church were like that? What if that is exactly what church is meant to be? (Acts 2:42-47)