This sermon was from Sunday, October 9th and it is from the texts for Pentecost 17A
Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
Every communion Sunday our liturgy changes just a little bit. By that I am not just talking about the insertion of the rite of Holy Communion that comes right after the offering, but the liturgy itself is a little different. This morning, Tara sang “Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to his People on Earth” and we all sang the response. “Lord God, heavenly king, almighty God and father….” However, on communion Sundays the cantor sings something a bit different. “This is the Feast of Victory for our God, Halleluiah!” and we sing a different response to that. In fact, that response we sing also contains those very words: This is the feast of victory for our God!
Have you ever wondered what that’s all about? What is this feast business? And, for that matter, what is this victory business, too; what victory are we celebrating? What is the feast of victory for our God?
There’s lots of talk of food and banquets and feasts in scripture. In our culture, as well as in many others around the world, breaking bread together is often more than a merely obtaining food but a social occasion, a celebration, something around which friendships, family and communities are formed. We eat at weddings, we eat at funerals, we eat for holidays, festivals and any other occasion of celebration may seem incomplete without some sort of meal. We often build friendships and romantic relationships around shared meals. There is even an entire industry related to food preparation not just for utilitarian purposes but entertaining and celebrating. And this is not limited to the United States either. It seems to be a human thing to celebrate with food.
Jesus speaks of a great banquet in his parable we heard today. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a wedding banquet. Imagine this man, this king, throwing a huge banquet in honor of his son’s marriage. Think about the last time you prepared for a big event like this. It takes a lot of care, thought and preparation. And a lot of food. I had a friend who was recently in a wedding and since he was just a grooms man “somewhere in the middle” as he said, he got to participate in the entertainment and fun and had very little responsibility. There was basically a week’s worth of activities leading up to the event with parties and socializing and culminating in the wedding banquet right after the ceremony. In Jesus’ time, wedding celebrations often took as much as a week with frequent celebration feasts along the way.
So this king has prepared a wedding banquet for his son and he sends out his agents to call those who were invited to come. But a very strange thing happens. They do not come. The king sends out more people to call in the guests saying—tell them everything is ready. I’ve prepared the best foods I have and it’s time. Come on.
But they do not. Worse than that, they make light of it. What an insult! One goes off to his farm and another goes off to work. Even worse than that, some of them took the King’s agents who had delivered the message and killed them. Much trouble ensues, as you can imagine!
Then the king does something quite unexpected. Instead of canceling the party, he tells his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone and everyone they find to the banquet! And they do just this. They go gather everyone—everyone out in the streets both good people and bad people and bring them into the banquet.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great banquet that God decided to share with everyone off the street both the good and the bad.
There are banquets in our old testament texts today as well. The text from psalm 23 is one that we typically read with a focus on the shepherd, but there is this great banquet that the Good Shepherd prepares for us in the presence of our enemies. A table is spread for us in the presence of anyone who troubles us. This image is more than just God providing sustenance in spite of bad things or giving us what we need to survive even when those who might be our enemies are around us. Preparing a table is more than just passing out a sandwich. It is making a meal with all the details that includes. And it isn’t in spite of our enemies or regardless of our enemies. It is in the very presence of our enemies. God gives us this gift of a full table right in front of anyone or anything that might harm us. Our cups run over with God’s generosity and grace.
The text from Isaiah is one of my personal favorites. It is what is called the Messianic banquet. ‘Messianic’ meaning of the Messiah. The Banquet of the Messiah. It might be reasonable to say that this is the king’s banquet for his son—the wedding feast in honor of his son and the son’s bride, the church. This Banquet of the Messiah, this banquet of the savior, is an apocalyptic vision of Isaiah’s. It is a vision at the end of time. God will destroy evil. God has destroyed evil. This is the feast of victory for our God.
On this mountain, Isaiah writes, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food. Like the King in Jesus’ parable, God has invited all people to this feast. And this is not just any feast either. It is a feast of rich foods, of well aged wines. The very best meal. Like the good shepherd who prepares the table in the psalm, it is not just a little bite to eat, it is food spread out before us with cups running over.
God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all people, the sheet that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever. That enemy in whose presence we dine is evil and death and God will destroy it forever. And, in its place, he will make a feast for us. Where once evil and death fed upon the lives of humans now God feeds us in a banquet overflowing with all good things.
This is the feast of victory for our God.
And now we return to the question at the beginning. We sing this every time we have communion. In fact we say “Sing with all the people of God and join in the hymn of all creation….This is the feast of victory for our God for the lamb who was slain has begun his reign.” Now communion seems, on the surface at least, not quite like a feast. A small wafer and thimble full of wine do not seem like the finest of cuisine and overflowing cups. And yet, this is what we are singing about. We are singing about this feast in Isaiah—the Banquet of the Messiah—God’s victory over death and evil.
There is another little piece of liturgy we sing about this as well. This one we sing whether it’s a communion Sunday or not. ‘Grace our table with your presence and give us a foretaste of the feast to come.’ Holy Communion is many things—the body and blood of Jesus, the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, the meal of the baptized, strength for the Christian life just to name a few. And another really important thing is this: it is the foretaste of the Banquet of the Messiah. In a sense, it is an appetizer, a small connection we have now to the feast we will have then. It is a small connection to that banquet at the end of time , a connection to those who have gone before us in death and with whom we will be reunited at that table. For at that time, God will wipe away all the tears from every face.
Communion and, in turn, all of our worship, are not only reminders that God has promised to do this and connections to this future time, it is also evidence of God actively at work in this world now. In Jesus’ parable he says, as he often does, the Kingdom of heaven is like….. Whenever we read this we can know that Jesus is giving a metaphorical illustration of something related to what God’s kingdom, God’s purpose for this world is like—for what God is going to do. But it is also something else. When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he went through out the land saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” meaning the Kingdom of Heaven is right in front of you. Jesus himself is the embodiment of the kingdom of heaven. So not only is God’s good purpose for the world, his healing and defeat of evil, his feast of victory and his wiping away of all tears something that will occur in the future, it is something that God is working on right now.
How can that be? There is still pain. Loss. Death. There is still evil at work in the world. Yes, this is true. But God is at work as well. God is working now in our world, bringing about his kingdom through many ways, primarily through us. When we have that foretaste of the banquet of the messiah—the foretaste of the feast to come, we are fed on God’s victory over death. We are given the strength to be the body and blood of Christ in this world and we are the hands and feet of the Messiah. Part of the ways in which God brings about his kingdom now is through us, through our lives our actions in the world. Everything we do and everything we say can be a reflection of this feast of God’s victory.
Being the body of Christ and partaking of the foretaste of this feast does not make us perfect. Not even close. It doesn’t mean everything we do will be a reflection of God’s grace, mercy, love and desire for justice and grace for all creation. That sure would be great, but it doesn’t and it isn’t really about that anyway. After all, the feast is for all people—the king sends his servants into the streets to bring in everyone, both the good and the bad. But it does mean that a little bit of that kingdom of God lives in each of us, is nurtured in each of us and has a chance to shine through and become active in this world right here and now through us.
It seems somewhat strange to preach about Holy Communion on a Sunday that we are not having communion. It is my hope, however, that the more we all know about communion the more hungry we will all be for it. It is my prayer that we are all hungry for the feast of victory for our God and that we come hungry for this feast every single week.
For this is The Lord, our God, we have waited for him, so that he will save us. Let us be glad and rejoice at this Banquet of the Messiah.