Trinity 18 2017 | St. Paul’s Athens
Isiaiah 25, 1-9; Philippians 4, 1-9; Matt 22, 1-14
Many years ago I was a Team Rector in North East Suffolk. Lynne and I lived in a small market town called Halesworth near to Southwold famous for its Adnams beer, and Adnams is a very good wine supplier as well. I recommend the Adnams ‘Fizz’ which friends from Suffolk used to bring us as a present when we were in Crawley and Cirencester.
Halesworth Team Ministry had its own very well produced church magazine called Team Times. The quality of its production was really only possible because we had a truly wonderful woman called Margaret Deering who sold advertising space to local businesses.
Her husband Alan became a non-stipendiary priest after many years of faithfully serving the church as a Licensed Reader, and as Lay Chair of the Deanery Synod. He was wonderful to me both as his parish priest and as Area Dean. Alan died all too suddenly while on holiday one year with Margaret on the island of Gozo. Shortly before his death as he lay in bed the ward was visited by the Archbishop of Malta and the Bishop of Gozo. When they heard that Alan was an Anglican priest they knelt before Alan and asked for a priestly blessing from him, before blessing Alan.
The beauty of that thought is almost distracting me away from the point. This magazine was set up in such a way that the Editorial Board decided on the content and the clergy only offered a spiritual introduction or message each month. There was one exception that I made to that principle. I had met in one of the villages a great character called Leslie. After a distinguished career as an orthodontist Leslie had turned his attention to his other great interest in life. Wine! In retirement he had set up a little wine company called ‘In the Pink’, and I thought it would be a welcome addition to the magazine if there was a wine article each month, written in Leslie’s inimitable style and enthusiasm. I am glad to say that he gladdens the hearts of the readers each month even 20 or so years after his first column.
He gladdens the heart. Now where have we heard this before – yes scripture. We are even told that wine gladdens the hearts of men. It is a wonderful and powerful image – and we all need our hearts gladdened.
Isaiah isn’t always the cheeriest of chaps and today’s first reading starts off with ruination and destruction, but he goes on to offer us a new vision of a God who gladdens the hearts. ‘On this mountain the Lord will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well aged wines strained clear.’
A banquet of the best food, a supply of the very best of wines – satisfying the physical needs and delights of humans, but also taking the very stuff of creation and setting it before us, served up beautifully presented, as an image of a renewed relationship with our God who gladdens the heart.
So much rich imagery of banquet and vine – a divine image; and image that directs us without distraction to our eucharist, to the Liturgy that is the very work of God’s hands. Here we as humans present before God an offering of bread; God takes this offering, blesses it and transforms it into the bread of life. Here we as humans present an offering of a cup of wine; God takes this offering, blesses it and transforms it into the cup of our salvation. ‘Blessed are you Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer, fruit of the field, and work of human hands; it will become for us the bread of life.’ ‘Blessed are you Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the field, and the work of human hands, it will be for us the cup of salvation’.
One of my favourite hymns is ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’. One verse in particular contains these beautiful words, ‘I the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame. I will set a feast for them, my hand will save. Finest bread I will provide, till their hearts are satisfied. I will give my life to them. Whom shall I send?’
Sweet words that resonate with the biblical image of the banquet, of food, and of fine wine – the heavenly banquet. It is all very comforting, affirming, and satisfying. It reminds me of the wonderful wedding breakfast we had when our daughter Rebecca got married 5 years ago – in fact her anniversary was just 2 days ago. Gosh that was a lovely wedding day! Others here will be able to think of wedding banquets they have attended, either recently or years ago.
Hold on though – is Christian discipleship all just about banqueting with its divine images of bread of life and cup of salvation? Is there no more to it than me remembering my daughter’s wedding and feeling all fluffy and happy.
There’s another wedding banquet to consider alongside this. This too is a royal banquet, a wedding breakfast to end all wedding breakfasts, with the best of foods and wines, but there is a big problem with the invitation list. Matthew’s gospel tells us of a rather shocking wedding – a wedding that is by way of a parable, a banquet that challenges us deeply. Jesus uses the wedding as an image of God’s people, but look how they respond to the invitation from God to attend. They even kill the son – what does this remind us of? And in the end even the poor and lame have to be prepared when they come into the presence of God, and there will always be some at the wedding banquet whose attitude, behavior, arrogance will make it hard to eat even the crumbs from the master’s table.
How can we truly attend the banquet and be totally satisfied unless we attend to the things of the heart, of the soul, of the spirit. All these images are not about gluttony and drunkenness, dressing up and judging the other guests – they are about the joy of following through the hard way of the cross to the Easter Feast.
‘Finest bread I will provide till their hearts are satisfied, I will give my life to them, whom shall I send? Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? The banquet is about the richness of God’s abundant love for us, and his call to worship, love and serve him.
You are invited today to feast from the Supper of the Lamb – the finest bread and wine are waiting, but as you approach the sacred banquet just ask, ‘Is it I lord?’