Grief: Feasting and Fasting

January 18, 2018

Four months ago, my four siblings and I planned a family feast weekend. Because we live in three different states, it takes significant planning and forethought for us gather in the same place at the same time.

Little did we know that when we cleared this January weekend to get together, we would begin by burying our mom. Yesterday we committed the body of Marcia Yvonne DeMey to the ground and her soul to God’s eternal care. It was a day laced with music, laughter, tears, stories, flowers, old photos and the Gospel story of God’s love for us in Jesus - a banner day.

I want to bear witness to how the rhythm of feasting and fasting has helped open me to God’s presence even in the midst of this difficult week.

On Wednesdays (aka “Fast Day”), I have committed to avoiding food from sunup ‘til sundown in order to focus my prayers for our congregation and new associate pastor. This Wednesday evening was the day of my mom’s wake in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My body really wanted to eat all day knowing that I would need all my energy and wits about me while talking and listening to the dear visitors who came to pay their respects to my mom. I was HUNGRY. In my hunger, I recognized just how EMPTY I was. This emptiness helped me pray for God to FILL our church and community with signs of his presence and power. I asked God to fill ME with signs of his presence and power—and how I preferred to see that prayer answered over having a proper lunch.

I do confess that I broke my fast just before sundown so that I could face my mom’s wake with a few calories in my system. My hope is that this made me a better listener and witness to my mom’s life and stories. Fasting is not about the hard and fast rules—though the rules help and serve us. Fasting is about stoking the fires of our prayers. It’s working for me.

After my mom’s wake, my siblings and I adjourned to a local restaurant to feast. It still seems a strange ritual to me; that is, to eat together after wakes and funerals. We did the same thing after the funeral service on Thursday. Worshippers and mourners gathered in the church basement for a fine meal prepared by my mom’s friends from Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church. We had a time of feasting together. I have a vivid memory from childhood, asking my father—mouth half full of heavily frosted sheet cake—why we were eating after my grandmother’s funeral. My dad said, “We break bread together because we are still among the living. By God’s will, we have breath. So, we eat and embrace this life we have together.”

Amen, Dad.

It’s not even Sunday yet and I’ve already had two major feasts this week. My siblings and I are sticking with our original plan and spending this entire weekend together. While I will miss worshipping at Elmhurst CRC on Sunday, what a blessing that God allowed me to clear out my calendar months ahead in order to make room for a time of feasting with my family, even though we’ll eat and laugh with tear-stained eyes.

A day is coming when grief, weakness, and fasting will end. But, as Jesus himself put it, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” No!

Lord, haste the day when we’re with you face to face and all that remains is feasting in the presence of God.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Gregg

PS: I loved my mom very much. She taught me the language of music without even trying—the same way we all teach our kids a mother tongue. I do hope that the musical gift she handed to me will help God’s people experience a little bit of the regular Sunday feasting and joy that the Lord intends for us.

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