Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

Many years ago, the daughter of a family friend called up Deborah and me. Coming to the city for a business trip, she wanted to get together. So we set up a date and time, saying we would have her over for dinner. That evening we prepared a special meal. Then Deborah drove across town to pick her up. Since Deborah had arrived early at the hotel, she decided  to stay in the car for a while—out in the parking lot.

In a short time, she happened to see our guest-to-be leaving the hotel with a young man. Maybe she had to go out and get something before meeting up with Deborah. Thirty minutes or so later, Deborah went into the lobby, figuring that our guest had come back by then. She called up to her room, but no one answered. Thinking there was some mix-up, she drove home and, once there, kept calling the hotel to find out whether she had returned. Again, no one answered, and we grew quite concerned.

Hours later, we finally got a call from her. What had happened was the young man she was with she had just met at the conference. He had two tickets to a concert, asked her to go with him, which she then did. While thankful she was alive, we were pretty upset about the whole thing.

She asked about getting together the next evening, but we said that, unfortunately, we wouldn’t be available. (Right!)

While we were more than a little miffed at being stood up, it was nothing at all compared to the situation in today’s parable. First of all, the host is a king. So what an honor it must be to receive an invitation to a dinner—and not just any dinner at all, but a wedding feast! What a slap in the face, then, when he learns that none of them is coming.

Before going any further, I need to say something about how strange, even bizarre this story is. In the real world, of course, the vast majority of people would attend such a gala affair. And those who could not would send their regrets. Also in the real world, such a dignitary would not have bothered to send a second invitation. And certainly those receiving it would not disrespect, mistreat or kill those delivering that message. Moreover it would make little sense for the king to burn to the ground a city in his own kingdom. And last of all, wouldn’t it seem inappropriate to move ahead with the wedding without delay? But in our own age, some heads of state do some pretty odd things, don’t they?

Like many of Jesus’ parables, the one we have today is an allegory. That is, every individual or group of people and every event stand for something else. In this case, the king is God, his son is Jesus, and those originally invited are, perhaps, many of the religious leaders, and the servants calling on them being the prophets trying to bring them back to God. The new guests?

Likely those who hear and embrace the message of Jesus—Jews & Gentiles alike. The feast they are attending is the heavenly banquet. In other words, salvation—eternal life. And the man who isn’t wearing the proper clothes? That’s not as clear-cut. Maybe he’s a wedding crasher. And, finally, the outer darkness? I think we all know what that is.

One thing’s for sure. We usually think of weddings and wedding banquets as a time to make merry. A time to celebrate. Yet the tone of this parable is dark. It has in it a message of judgment. So how do we deal with that? How might we apply it in our own time? What can we find in it that might be useful in the here-and-now of our own lives?

It might be helpful to turn to a variation of this parable that appears in the Gospel of Luke. In that version those invited as guests actually come up with reasons for not attending. They may not be good reasons, but at least they have them. And I am going to share them with you from a song I learned years ago at church camp:

            I cannot come to the banquet.

            Don’t bother me now.

            I have just got me a wife.

            I have just bought me a cow.

            I have fields and commitments

            That cost a pretty sum.

            Don’t bother me now.

            I cannot come.

I love camp songs!

I want us to think about our worship life as a time of celebration—as if we’re attending a great dinner that we’re invited to not just once in a while, but, in fact, every week. I am talking about Holy Communion. And to help better understand that, I want to do something I’ve done before in a sermon, but that certainly bears repeating. It’s like what my oldest brother once told me: “You know, Al, it’s okay if you sometimes preach an old sermon—or at least part of one—or repeat some examples and stories. People won’t remember. They won’t know the difference.”

That may well be true. But I usually remember, and it at least makes a difference to me. That said, I want to mention, as I’ve done before, the various meanings that we have for holy communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper—and how one of them has to do with the Parable of the Wedding Banquet

First of all, communion is a time of remembrance—remembering the last meal that the “earthly” Jesus shared with his closest followers.

Second, it is a sacrament of forgiveness. As it says in our liturgy, the body and blood are given “for the forgiveness of sins.”

Third, it’s something we do together as a fellowship of Christians. That’s way we call it “communion.” To come into “union” with one another. And that’s why some people at churches, after worship, take the blessed bread and wine directly to other members who happen to be homebound—so they can feel more a part of the worship service they are unable to attend.

Fourth, it’s a kind of spiritual nourishment. It’s a spiritual food that keeps us going from one week to the next.

At least one other way in which we understand communion is what we know as “a foretaste of the feast to come.” An appetizer, so to speak, in anticipation of the heavenly banquet we will all one day enjoy without end. I doubt whether this last understanding is one we think of nearly as often as some of the others. Maybe we do more on festival Sundays—and maybe the entire Easter season when, instead of kneeling, we remain standing at the communion rail. At other times—like on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday and perhaps on Sundays during the season of Lent—it’s especially appropriate to focus on the themes of remembering and forgiving. But that doesn’t mean most other times we have to be somber about this sacrament!

It’s like this: As a seminary intern, as a vicar, I remember a person—her name was Birdie, Birdie Kuempel—who whenever she came up for communion always had this beautiful smile on her face. She understood the Eucharist—which, after all, means “good gift”—in exactly that way. It’s most often a time of celebration, a time of joy. As in our second lesson today, in the 4th chapter of Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

Here’s one more way to understand it: Once I was looking for a gift at a Christian bookstore, when a framed picture on the wall caught my eye. It was a scene of a dinner table on which was spread a feast of sumptuous foods:

·        delicacies of one kind and another to whet one’s appetite;

·        goblets filled with the best of wines;

·        fresh, warm bread;

·        the main course, including all the perfectly arranged vegetables;

·        and, last of all, a beautifully decorated cake.

The caption at the bottom of the picture read: “You are cordially invited to a dinner to be held in honor of my Son.” Signed, “God.”

Again, let me say that God offers us a weekly appetizer, “a foretaste of the feast to come.” Divine food and divine drink. Whenever we receive it,we are, in a way, answering God’s invitation to the heavenly banquet. It’s our RSVP that says, “Yes! We plan to be there! We wouldn’t miss it for all the world!”