The disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’
Jesus said: The day will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
Weddings have always been times of celebration … and excess. In my ministry I meet many couples who are journeying towards their ‘Big Day’, the day when they will publicly declare their love for each other as they exchange lifelong and life-changing vows. After the first tentative meeting, when we go through the legal formalities associated with a wedding, we travel a long and winding path towards their wedding day. That journey will involve an overview of the wedding service and an in-depth consideration of the commitment that is being made as those well-known phrases are uttered before a congregation of family and friends. The journey will also see a growing engagement with the commercial aspects of marriage. Despite saying that they understand that the important part of their wedding day is the time they will spend in church, the issues that will come to occupy their minds the most will revolve around family politics and money. Sometimes it takes a lot of determined work to keep those couples focused on that which is truly important.
In today’s reading we hear Jesus using the comparison of himself and his followers as bridegroom and bride. He is explaining that his very presence should be seen as a time of celebration, and not a time of penitential fasting, because the presence of bride and bridegroom should be seen as a time of rejoicing. However, Jesus is also warning those who are questioning him that his physical presence will soon come to an end, he will not be walking this world in human form for ever.
We know what lay ahead for the human Jesus. We also know what was to follow. The resurrection from the dead and the eternal presence of Christ demands faith, faith in that which we cannot see. There are times when such faith can seem elusive. When we struggle to hold on to our faith in the risen and ascended Christ, then we will need strategies to keep our minds focused on the divine, rather the on the chaos of this mortal world. Fasting is one of those disciplines that act as a constant reminder of our commitment to Christ.
Let us pray that our journey through Lent might see us growing in faith, and not weakening in the face of all that might challenge our certainty in that which is important. Let us pray that our Lenten disciplines might not be focused on personal gain, but on the nurturing of those amongst whom we live and work. Let us pray that through our faith we might come to know the joy of living in the presence of the divine Bridegroom for evermore.