After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
(Matthew 4:2 NIV)

On Ash Wednesday, I attended a service at the Anglican church in our community. The priest led us through the liturgy, and I went forward to receive the imposition of ashes. It was the first time her congregation had met in person since before Christmas. It was the fifth anniversary of the beginning of her ministry in our town, which was also on Ash Wednesday. I thought it was fitting that she began her ministry on this day in the church calendar when we are told: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” And her ministry was “born again,” in a sense, on Ash Wednesday.

I was struck by a point that the “Rev. Dana” made in her sermon.

She was explaining what Ash Wednesday means and when it appears in the church calendar. She reminded us that Ash Wednesday, and the season of Lent, is bracketed by feasts. Lent begins just after the celebration of Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday, and the season ends with the celebration and feasting at Easter. In between these two feasts is a period of fasting. Fasting and feasting go together, she said.

A few months prior to the pandemic, and just before we started to hear rumours of something in Wuhan that was problematic, the church I serve (St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Bradford West Gwillimbury, Ont.) celebrated its 200th Anniversary. After a wonderful service of thanksgiving on the third Sunday of November back in 2019, we gathered around tables in our Settlement Hall for a catered lunch.

The Rev. Bob Faris and the Rev. Dr. Daniel Scott sharing a meal on Ash Wednesday.

The Rev. Dr. Bob Faris and the Rev. Dr. Daniel Scott sharing a meal on Ash Wednesday.

Our anniversary planning committee said it is not often that you get to celebrate a 200th anniversary of anything, let alone a church. They decided that we should do it in style—rented table linens, silverware and china. Since our kitchen crew is on deck so often, the decision was made to hire a catering company to cook the meal, serve the food and clean up afterward. This was to be a celebration for everyone.

And we did celebrate.

Our plan was to have a year of celebrations with events for all ages planned for each month of the anniversary year. But then COVID-19 struck, and many of those plans were postponed.

We adopted all the protocols we’ve become familiar with over the last two years. We isolated. We masked. We fasted from time spent with one another in person.

In preparing our budget for 2022, our committee suggested we ensure that money be included in the budget to allow for celebrations when we return. I heard people in the budget discussions say we should have another one of those big celebration dinners when we are all back safe.

Feasting. Fasting. And then, more feasting. It’s part of the rhythm of the Christian life.

In C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, Lewis talks about “the law of undulation”—the highs and the lows of life. It is inevitable that we will have peaks and troughs throughout life.

Celebrating and feasting at the 200th Anniversary dinner at St. John’s Presbyterian Church.

Celebrating and feasting at St. John’s 200th Anniversary dinner.

The lows are often the times when we experience and succumb to temptation. We have seen some of this in the low times of the pandemic, resulting in the decline of civil discourse, fear, anxiety, and distrust of public officials.

The familiar 23rd Psalm has the sense of highs and lows or feasting followed by fasting followed by feasting. It begins with our Good Shepherd encouraging sheep to graze in “green pastures” and to drink from “quiet waters.” However, this is followed by a walking through “valleys of deep darkness.” When we are in the low period, in the valley, we need to be reminded, we will get through this. On the other side of the valley, the same Shepherd prepares a “table before us” and our “cup runs over.”

We will get through this low time. We are resurrection people.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel Scott, Moderator