The Cup and the Feast

[photo]
Written by Beth Fitch and Darby Gerlicher


“…And then I do remember the cattle, lumbering toward that trough to eat together. It is this last image that I want to rest our attention upon this morning. Even for cattle, eating is often a community event.
This past Christmas undoubtedly many of you ate many meals with friends and family.  Eating a meal by ourselves is tasty, nutritious; but there is an added dimension, isn’t there, when we eat meals together.  The meal is not merely about the food – it is about conversation, it is about fellowship, it is about deepening relationship, it is about processing opinions and thoughts, it is about sharing hopes, and it is about sharing heartaches.
So much good can happen around a meal with friends and family.”
Pastor Ritch Boerckel, Sermon Introduction, January 8, 2017

A Mother’s View
For me the sermon stopped there, transporting me back to an emotional black hole that had engulfed me in August of 2011.  That month marked yet another circumstance in my daughter’s life that brought such a sense of helplessness and fear as a parent I was tempted to despair. That, of course, was the very moment I needed to peer out of the black hole and focus wholly on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is what I had done when I received Christ as my Savior, God having given me ears to hear as my Bible teacher said, “It is not our circumstances that speak to whether we are loved by God or not; but rather, we know love by this, that He [Jesus Christ] laid down His life for us.” At that point, I had immediately known I was loved by the One who would never leave me or forsake me.
Now in 2011, our daughter, Darby, was about to leave for college. In 2009, she had experienced a pesticide poisoning, and in 2015, we would learn that she had had Lyme disease since that time as well.  We had been working with doctors in Peoria and Dallas and had connected with the disabilities office of the college. Darby’s diet consisted of only about a dozen foods that she had to eat on a strict rotation. I was very anxious that she not be isolated from the other students but be included in that dining hall fellowship that is so central to making friendships and succeeding in a college environment. We had been assured that the chef could do anything. To make it easy we had created a meal plan for every meal that she would be served in the dining hall the first semester. With only a few foods there were no complex recipes – it was more like washing grapes and cooking a piece of unseasoned meat. We passed on the meal plan, and I offered to buy all the cookware the chef needed for Darby’s meals and to source any of the foods that inconvenienced the chef.
Two days before leaving for campus, with the all the packing done, the college called and said that they could not feed our daughter and she should not come. Bad moment. I have no idea what the problems were for the college (they always treated us with great kindness and compassion) – what morass of nutrition regulations our plan violated, but God seemed to be leading Darby to that school. We negotiated an alternative plan whereby Darby would cook all her meals in the dorm. I was heartbroken. Not only was she consigned to isolation, but she was so ill that I was not sure that she could handle this additional self-care along with the medical injection shot regimes ­­­– not to mention the academics.
When she was not looking, I wept and I wept. Darby was a growing Christian, but it appeared that she was about to embark on a curriculum designed by our sovereign, loving Father that would be a watershed moment for her faith. Would the circumstances overwhelm her or would she meet Jesus in way that allowed her to sing, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You” (Ps. 73:25)?
God gave Darby a song. Her college years were an amazing testimony to me of God’s love and ability to walk with us in hard and lonely places. But six years later that simple sermon introduction with which I so deeply agree took me back to relive and mourn again loss and brokenness in this world. And what does this say about faith? Am I lacking in faith because I experience sadness and wish, even as I thank God for His joy and blessings in my daughter’s life, that things could have been different?
I do not believe sadness is a lack of faith when it serves as a backdrop for making Christ’s beauty shine brighter. Sadness is not anger. It is mourning loss. But sadness can be and is often used by God to help us find even deeper joy in our eternal hope in Him. Faith feels the sadness but looks to Jesus Christ. The sadness reminds me that the world is broken but Jesus is coming again, and He has accomplished through His perfect life, death on the cross, bodily resurrection, and ascension all that is necessary to wipe away every tear of His blood-bought saints (Rom. 8:15-25; Rev. 21:4). The sadness reminds me that when there was no hope, God made a way (Eph. 2: 12,13), and that every promise He has made is “yes” in His beloved Son (2 Cor. 1:20). These truths, which will be fully realized in heaven, are partially realized even now. In college on a daily basis God sustained Darby, gave her caring professors and health services staff, gave her strength and good success in academic challenges, and met with her through His Word.
And in the Word we meet a Savior who not only remedies our sadness but experienced it more deeply than any of us ever will. In the garden of Gethsemane, Luke tells us Jesus prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Luke then describes Jesus’s emotional state: “And being in agony He was was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). Matthew describes Jesus’s agony as a soul “deeply grieved, to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38).
In a sermon on Luke 22:44, Jonathan Edwards movingly describes what the intense agony arose from and how it demonstrates the strength of Christ’s love for sinners. (The lengthy quote below is an encouraging taste but does not do justice to the powerful nature of the entire sermon.)
That the conflict which the soul of Christ then endured was occasioned by those views and apprehensions [understandings]. The sorrow and distress which his soul then suffered, arose from that lively, and full, and immediate view which he had then given him of that cup of wrath; by which God the Father did as it were set the cup down before him, for him to take it and drink it. Some have enquired, what was the occasion of that distress and agony, and many speculations there have been about it, but the account which the Scripture itself gives us is sufficiently full in this matter, and does not leave room for speculation and doubt.  The thing that Christ’s mind was so full of at that time was, without a doubt, the same with that which his mouth was so full of: it was the dread which his feeble human nature had of the dreadful cup, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. He had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames and see the glowings of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer.  This was the thing that filled his soul with sorrow and darkness, this terrible sight as it were overwhelmed him.
The strength of Christ’s love more especially appears in this, that when he had such a full view of the dreadfulness of the cup he was to drink, that so amazed him, he would notwithstanding even then take it up, and drink it…. It put him in this dreadful agony which you have heard described; but his love for sinners held out…. But if sinners, on whom he had set his love, could not, agreeably to the will of God, be saved without his drinking it, he chose that the will of God be done…. …his love held out, and he resolved even then, in the midst of his agony to yield himself up to the will of God, and to take the cup and drink it.[1]
        Although I lost track of Pastor Ritch’s sermon for a while, I had not stopped worshipping. I had gone to Gethsemane and on to the cross and my heart was filled with thanksgiving and praise.  And I wanted and want to “recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us…according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Isa. 63:7).
A Daughter’s Experience:
When God made Israel into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, he instituted a series of feasts that would set them apart from the surrounding nations. During these feasts they were to come together to remember the salvation He had brought them. Daily life and work would come to a halt, and the whole nation would celebrate His goodness. These feasts served to unify the people, and ingrained into them their identity as God’s people. These were great times of joy, as seen in Deuteronomy 16:14-15, “You shall rejoice in your feast…. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hand, so that you will be altogether joyful.” The importance of eating together is also stressed in the New Testament, when Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for how they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The wealthy did not wait for others, but ate quickly, leaving no food for the poor. Some even became drunk. In Corinth, a meal intended to bring the church together in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice tore the church apart instead.
But what if feasting brings loneliness instead of communal joy? What if you are unable to feast at all? This has been my story for the last eight years, and God has met me with comfort for the present and promises for the future.
When I was sixteen years old, I contracted Lyme Disease, which within a few months caused me to develop sensitivities to most foods. Although my diet has made slow improvements, at its worst there were only eleven foods (including calorie warhorses like cinnamon and lemon) that I could eat without feeling sick. My mother had shared her love of cooking with me, and family events centered on a meal; now the joy of sharing these feasts together had been taken away from me. At my brother’s wedding reception, all I could eat were grapes and raisins. And then there was college. I could not eat in the dining hall, so I cooked my food in the (usually filthy) dorm kitchen and ate alone. I felt helplessly isolated and was faced with the difficulty of making friends without the ability to eat with them. When I did eat with others, I still felt lonely because the conversation inevitably veered toward my plate of weird food, and I would have to recite my health saga - again. What I used to celebrate, I now dreaded.
I have held on to hope that I will not have to take my own food to parties for the rest of my life, but I have no solid foundation for this hope. But I refuse to despair.  I hold on to another hope more surely, one in which I can put my complete trust - He is faithful who has promised.
In college I was desperately in need of Jesus’s comfort, and it was there in His promise in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” I might not be able to chat with others over a sandwich, but God offers me something greater, that no health problem can take away! He wants to commune with me. When I prepared my most dismal dinners at school, I often pretended that I was cooking for Jesus. However silly it sounds, it helped me focus on his promise to be with me always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

This present comfort is a piece of the future joy we are promised in heaven. There will be a marriage supper one day where no good thing will be denied me. Loneliness will be banished, and I will be in full union with my Savior. My food allergies here on earth will not diminish my joy on that day in any way - if anything, the day will be even more beautiful as every tear over headaches and stomachaches is wiped away. So as I eat my rice cake, I know I am loved more than I ever deserve, for, as the angel said, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).




[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume Two (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 867-869.





Beth Fitch is grateful to the neighbor who invited her to a women’s Bible study in 1969 where God gave her ears to hear and the heart to respond to John 3:16 and I John 3:16.  She has loved studying the Bible and women’s Bible studies ever since.

Darby Gerlicher
graduated from college in 2015 with a degree in piano performance and is now enjoying her second year of marriage to her husband Andrew. Since moving to California after her wedding, she misses the Bethany community but has found joy in studying God’s Word and in building
relationships within her new church.


Comments

  1. I am so blessed by your stories! Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Thank you for sharing, Beth and Darby. Thank you for pointing us to Jesus in the midst of trial, uncertainty, sadness and loneliness. Praise Him for his faithfulness!

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