As most of you know, earlier this month was our 7th Annual Diocesan Synod, held this year in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While I didn’t see as much of the city as I’d have liked, I did eat quite a few good meals near our hotel. At one of these meals, during an early supper on the Friday of the synod, all of the San Antonio clergy and delegates went to a somewhat upscale restaurant. During this dinner, Fr. Scott from Three Streams remarked how this was the first synod where representatives of every parish in San Antonio broke bread together.
There’s something special about sharing a meal. Indeed, there was a time when our local parishes did not get along very well; as some of us were recently recalling the positive change, we realized that it began with meeting for lunch together every few months or so. God has designed human beings to be social creatures, and eating together is one of the primary ways those social bonds are strengthened. Family meals are important. Parish pot-lucks are important. Even in the business world, lunch with clients and co-workers is important.
Isn’t it interesting that the primary uniquely Christian form of worship is in the context of a ritual meal? Holy Communion is quite literally a sanctified fellowship with our Lord and each other over bread and wine, over the body and blood of Christ.
Last week I mentioned that Trinitytide is primarily about our growth in virtue, our fight against vice, our sanctification. But the first two weeks after Trinity Sunday set the stage for that growth by building a foundation of love. Last week we discussed what it means when we read in Scripture that God is love. We discussed the self-sacrificing choice that is agape love in the New Testament. This week builds upon that theme by bringing us to an agape feast.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about such a great feast. Please turn in your bibles to Luke 14:16, page 192 in your Prayer Book:
A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please let me be excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please let me be excused.” And another said, “I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come.” So the servant came and reported these things to his master.
Imagine planning a banquet, preparing the fine china, hiring the wait staff and caterers, and sparing no expense. You sent out invitations months in advance, received all the RSVPs, just to have all the guests send last minute excuses as to why they could not come. And what lame excuses! Does anyone buy a piece of property without seeing it? And if it was bought sight-unseen, it can certainly wait one more night! The new oxen aren’t going anywhere. And the new wife is the perfect “plus one” to the banquet!
This is, of course, a parable, which means that it’s a story that points to something bigger. The Church Fathers and the Reformers all agree that the banquet ultimately points to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, that culmination of our salvation when we will be with our Lord in the World to Come. That is, the invitation to the banquet is an invitation to be a disciple of Christ, to fellowship with him, to be united to him and become his body here on earth so that we would one day join him in his Father’s house. That means that those who refused to come to the banquet ultimately refused the call to follow Jesus, the call to be saved from their sins, the call to become children of God.
But notice that these were people who knew and were known by the Master of the banquet. That means that these were people who we’d call churchgoing Christians. Yet they nevertheless refused the call to the Master’s banquet.
Let’s continue the passage. Verse 21:
The the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.” And the master said to his servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.
Upon the rejection of his banquet by his invited guests, the master then expands his guest list, first inviting those in need of charity, and then inviting even random people in the streets.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, a major theme is he Kingdom of God going out to those who would have been overlooked in society. In the immediate context of the passage, this speaks to the Gospel moving beyond the Pharisees to the regular folk, but it also hints at the Gospel moving from being confined to Israel and going out to the Gentiles. More broadly, though, it speaks to the danger of rejecting the Gospel out of the foolish notion that the cares of this life are more important than following Christ and coming to his banquet.
The Prayer Book applies this parable to the Sacrament of Holy Communion. After all, the Lord’s Supper is a microcosm, a taste, of the Marriage Supper to come. On page 88 of our Book of Common Prayer, we find the Third Exhortation for Communion, designed to be read by the priest when he sees that people are “negligent to come to the Holy Communion.” Listen to this excerpt:
I bid you all who are here present; and beseech you, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, that ye will not refuse to come [to the holy Communion], being so lovingly called and bidden by God himself. Ye know how grievous and unkind a thing it is, when a man hath prepared a rich feast, decked his table with all kind of provision, so that there lacketh nothing but the guests to sit down; and yet they who are called, without any cause, most unthankfully refuse to come. Which of you in such a case would not be moved? Who would not think a great injury and wrong done unto him? Wherefore, most dearly beloved in Christ, take ye good heed, lest ye, withdrawing yourselves from this holy Supper, provoke God’s indignation against you. It is an easy matter for a man to say, I will not communicate, because I am otherwise hindered with worldly business. But such excuses are not so easily accepted and allowed before God. If any man say, I am a grievous sinner, and therefore am afraid to come: wherefore then do ye not repent and amend? When God calleth you, are ye not ashamed to say ye will not come? When ye should return to God, will ye excuse yourselves, and say ye are not ready? Consider earnestly with yourselves how little such feigned excuses will avail before God. Those who refused the feast in the Gospel, because they had bought a farm, or would try their yokes of oxen, or because they were married, were not so excused, but counted unworthy of the heavenly feast. Wherefore, according to mine office, I bid you in the Name of God, I call you in Christ’s behalf, I exhort you, as ye love your own salvation, that ye will be partakers of this holy Communion.
The exhortation goes on for a while after this. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing for yourselves some time. While the frequency of Communion is a matter upon which Christians of good will can reasonably disagree (after all, it wasn’t even 100 years ago when just about all of Christendom only communed a few times per year), I think we can all acknowledge that every Christian needs to come to the Lord’s Table, according to the Scriptures.
Our catechism tells us that the Body and Blood of the Lord strengthen and refresh our souls just as the bread and wine strengthen and refresh our bodies. Our Liturgy tells us that it is by communion that we are given the pledge by God that we have his favor and goodness, are members of Christ’s mystical body, and are heirs of his kingdom. Our Articles of Religion tell us that the Sacrament is a witness and sign of God’s grace, whereby he gives us life, strengthens, and confirms our faith as we partake in Christ’s Body and Blood.
Of course, just about everyone listening to the homily today has already been convinced of these truths. In our Anglican circles, the church culture of today expects frequent, typically weekly, Communion. Rather than being negligent in coming to Communion, our tendency is more likely to treat Communion too lightly. St. Matthew’s version of today’s parable speaks to this when it mentions the man who comes to the wedding feast without the provided wedding garment, and is cast out of the feast. I find it interesting that the first two Exhortations, found on pages 85 through 87 in the Prayer Book, emphasize the need to come to Communion in a “worthy manner.” That is, they urge us to come to the Lord’s Table in faith and repentance, in love and charity with God and neighbor. Again, I’d encourage you all to read them some time. The first and shorter of these we traditionally read at the major changes of the Church year.
The truth is, neglecting Communion and coming to Communion unworthily are often two sides of the same coin. Lame excuses, lack of repentance, or harboring hatred for our neighbor all boil down to exalting our will and desires over God’s. We say to the Lord, “No, my will be done.”
Rather, we need to recognize that we are indeed poor and crippled and blind and lame, spiritually speaking. We cannot take care of ourselves and we need the Master’s Table if we are to survive. And this is the other aspect of the parable. It’s not just about the anger of the Master at his invited guests rejecting the invitation; it’s about the fact that he provided a banquet in the first place! The Master’s house would be filled. The Master’s feast was made to be enjoyed.
Again, remember that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Table is a sign of our Salvation. We come to his Table in remembrance of what he has done for us in his “blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension.” He feeds us with himself because we are his. And the invitation to become his, to have a place at the Table goes out to all. “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not parish but have everlasting life.”
As we’ve said for the last two weeks, Trinitytide is a time of growth, a time of sanctification. Such growth cannot come of ourselves, but it is rooted in the very things that our Lord gives us at his Table: communion with him, communion with each other, assurance of our salvation and of his love. Last Sunday we learned that only those who are loved can love in return. Today we bid you to come to the Master’s feast, taste his love, and then take it out to those in the highways and hedges as you go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.