How do we practice our faith with new people and in the new dawning kingdom? Do we hold onto the traditional practices or do we change our practices to meet new needs? This is part of the question facing Jesus and the disciples in this passage. John's disciples and the pharisees are fasting. This suggests a time during the year when a religious festival was happening that asked for people to fast as part of the celebration. Both John and the pharisees are very religious and are calling people to be faithful, to be in touch with God. Fasting has always been a religious practice to bring us closer to God. The practice of refraining from food allows people to use their hunger pains and their emptiness to focus on God. So Jesus' followers are not fasting and people want to know why. Jesus' answer reminds us the previous story where Jesus is feasting with sinners. So while others are depriving themselves to be closer to God, Jesus is feasting with outsiders. Jesus' response is right now, while I am here we will celebrate. But Jesus is also talking about how we live and practice our faith when the Holy One of Israel is with us. Jesus gives us the analogy of the old and new wineskins, old and new cloth. When the new is sewn into the old the stitches will break or tear. So a new wine need new wineskins.
The Call to Discipleship in The Gospel of Mark, Day 1318 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ 19Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
21 ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’ Mark 2:18-22
This raises interesting questions about how to practice our faith. So in our age when fasting is not really a part of our tradition in the UCC except maybe for one item during lent. Would fasting as a spiritual discipline transform our faith? What would it look like to spend 3 days fasting once a month with the time of the fast being used for meditation and prayer? What would is be like to fast in lent or Advent as if we were celebrating Ramadan? What if we were to refrain from eating during these times from sunrise to sunset. Would this help us to draw closer to God? Would this help us to remember that this time is set apart to bring us closer to God?
Are we so caught up in hanging onto what was and our traditions that we have forgotten the bridegroom? Have we forgotten that Jesus has called us to be the new wine? Have we lost the practices that bring life? It also makes me wonder if this implies that we as the church have lost the newness, the desire to follow God anew in each generation. This may mean asking why we practice our faith the way we do and how can we allow God to renew us, to help us be the new wine again.
One of the traditions of my tradition is to pray the Lord's Prayer communally in worship. We often say this reflexively, because we have been saying it since we were children. We speed through it ready to reach the end. Today spend some time changing the way you pray this prayer. So if you have never practiced using a rosary, grab a beaded necklace or bracelet and for each bead say the Lord's prayer. Or alternatively, as you begin to pray the prayer stop at each line and pause breathing in and out. Let the words settle into your heart.