Back in October, we had the great joy of seeing my niece get married. We are now looking forward to my nephew’s wedding in about two weeks’ time. We’re looking forward to smiles, applause, laughter, music and dancing. There’ll also be plenty to eat. A Wedding is a celebration, a feast.
Jesus draws on the imagery of the wedding feast in order to respond to further criticism from the Pharisees. Whilst there was only technically one day of fasting (the Day of Atonement) in The Law, other fasts had been added over time. It seems that, unlike John’s disciples, Jesus’ disciples didn’t observe these additional days.
It’s not that Jesus was against fasting. He himself, echoed Moses’ fast at Sinai (Exodus 34:28) when he went out to the wilderness to be tested and went 40 days without food. He also gave instructions to his disciples on what to do when they fasted, assuming it seems that they would (Matthew 6:16).
However, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they ask why his followers are not observing the Fast is that it is not the time for such things. It would be like turning up to a wedding dressed and acting like you were at a funeral. Jesus’ argument is that it is now more like a wedding than a funeral. The bridegroom is among his people and so it is a time for celebration and rejoicing. The time for mourning and fasting will be when he is no longer with them.
This raises a fascinating question for us in terms of our demeaner. Jesus has returned to heaven and so we might say that the bridegroom is no longer present with us. Yet, he is also with us through his Spirit. So, is this a time for fasting and mourning or is it a time for rejoicing and feasting. I want to suggest that it is both/and. This is what “life in the middle” or “the now and not yet” means. It means a mixture of emotions and responses. We are at one and the same time to enjoy our salvation, to rejoice because we have been reconciled to God, to delight in his presence with us through the Holy Spirit. Yet, we also know that there is more to come. We long for that day, we grieve for the cost of sin seen in our own lives, families and communities as well as in the horrors of conflict and oppression around the world. So, whether literally or metaphorically we join in the fast as well as the feast.
However, Jesus point is even more significant. It’s not just timings that are at stake but right responses. In verses 20-21 he uses two analogies, one of attempting to repair an old garment with new cloth and the other of attempting to use old wine skins to pour in new wine. In both cases it won’t work. The cloth will separate and the old wineskins will burst.
It is not just that the timing is wrong for mourning and fasting, it’s that they are attempting to encourage God to act and to respond to what God is doing with methods and rituals that belong to a different context. Jesus is bringing in the New Covenant and they are seeking to keep going with things that belong to the Old Covenant. Jesus is saying here that what he is doing is something so new that you cannot simply tag it on to the old life. Old religious systems will not be able to contain it. It will break away and burst out.
Here is something important for you and me. If we have put our trust in Jesus, then we cannot simply tag our faith in him onto our existing life. Jesus is not an additional extra. I cannot come to the Gospel without being ready for a fundamental change in my life, in my outlook, direction, attitude, emotions, behaviours, appetites etc. There can be no compromise, no syncretism. I have to be all in for him.
 And it seems that those who were fasting were in the habit of putting on an outward show comparable to public mourning according to Matthew 6:16.