17th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 28
October 9, 2011
Matthew 22:1-14, Isaiah 25:1-9
My mother wasn’t a good cook. She didn’t really like to cook, but she loved to have dinners. An only child who grew up in a huge nest of relations, she liked nothing better than to putting the extra leaves in the table and filling up the house with people over a meal. It wasn’t about the food; it was about the celebration.
What about you? How many Thanksgivings, Christmases, wedding and funeral meals have you been to? How many breakfasts with friends, lunches or coffees with people at work? Gathering over a meal is an important part of human life and human relationships.
Meals and food are celebrated all over scripture: manna in the desert, a table spread before my enemies, kingly feasts where handwriting appears on the walls, and where Esther challenges her king to save her people. There are meals served to whole communities in Acts, and gatherings over meals to worship in 1 Corinthians. And then, of course, there is the bread and wine of the last supper Jesus will share with his followers and disciples.
The feast we hear about in Isaiah may have been on Jesus’ mind when he tells the story of the wedding banquet we have in Matthew’s Gospel. In the midst of prophesies of destruction, Isaiah, the prophet makes extraordinary claims: that God will prepare a feast for all people, not just for his chosen people, and that God will destroy death forever. The prophecy is that the whole world is invited to celebrate God’s victory over all the evil that keeps people from experiencing joy. Never before in all the writings of Hebrew Scripture has the claim been made that God will destroy death. The claims that God will end sorrow and tears and swallow up death are echoed in the writings of Paul in Corinthians (1 Cor 15:55) and the writer of Revelation. The prophet’s words tell us that we will recognize God’s work with joy and relief: “this is the God for whom we have waited, the God who has saved us before has finally come to be with us.”
The story Jesus tells is much more pointed, highlighting the fact that God’s promises of salvation and invitation are for all people. The first people invited to attend the banquet in Jesus’ story did not welcome the invitation, abused the King’s messengers, and earned the King’s punishment. It is easy to see that as those ‘chosen people’ that God called originally to be a light to the nations, but who killed the prophets and abused their invitation, resulting in division and exile and factionalism. Jesus lays into the religious leaders who are increasingly hostile to him and his message that God’s reign is here and that he is Messiah for whom they have waited.
If the Temple elite are the first invitees, I think of us as the lately invited. We are the people who are called to take their place at the banquet. We are the good and the bad, the newcomers, welcomed into a banquet beyond imagining. We come as we are able. We bring nothing with us that would make us special. But still we are welcomed. The king is God, wanting to fill the banquet with people who appreciate their invitation, recognizing that it is a pure gift. We are the good and the bad, those who are going to be transformed forever by being part of God’s invitation. We come as we are, but something happens to us at the feast, the rags of our own pride and self-worth are turned into garments of praise. Our faith clothes us, the faith that was planted in us in our baptism, the faith that grew from experience of God’s love and care. Our garment of praise, our wedding garment, if you will, is the power God has given us to live the love that has lifted and forgiven us, and opened our hearts to the world around us. We are clothed in Christ, says Paul the Apostle. It is our hope and our salvation.
I wonder if Matthew, the Gospel writer, is the same Matthew who sat with Jesus at many meals including the last one they all shared together. Imagine what it would have been like to sit at that table. It is a meal you would never forget. it is a meal you would remember every time people gathered over a meal to share their faith stories. It is a meal that you could imagine sharing again at the end of time, when all the promises of God are completed. Imagine yourself, coming here to the feast we celebrate today, clothed in the new, the wedding garment that is God’s gift of faith. I know we have only a bite of the bread Arline makes for us, and a sip of wine that Mogen David makes, but it is a feast, prepared in God’s holy church for all people. It is a feast in which God lifts the pall of sorrow, anxiety, violence, and disease that plague our world, and swallows up death forever. You are invited. You are welcome. You have been clothed with Christ to go out from here fed and nourished and challenged to be his hands and heart in a world that needs his love. Come and celebrate.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds and keep them in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.