The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (22:2-14)
Again and again I am moved by the way that Our Lord Jesus Christ has refused to leave us ignorant about the things of God and the things of His kingdom. Because He loves us, He opens the blinds and gives us a glimpse into the most critical issues for the people of God.
Last week we heard the parable of the vineyard and this week we hear that “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son.” There can be no doubt that the king in the parable is God the Father. The son is Our Lord Jesus Christ. The feast to which God is calling us is the celebration of the marriage union of the Lord Jesus to His bride. St. Paul tells us that the bride of Christ is the Church. The Lord consummated this marriage by uniting Himself to His bride upon the holy wood of the cross. He became one with His bride and took her infirmities upon Himself. In return for the death that He took for our sakes, He gave His bride, His own life and resurrection!
Each and every Sunday we come together as the bride of God, the Church, in order to celebrate this union of God with man. This transformation of death into life. We celebrate the swallowing of despair and the rebirth of hope. Each Sunday is Pascha. Each Sunday is entrance into the kingdom of God. There is in a very tangible sense, a way in which we live from Sunday to Sunday. That is actually the structure of the services and the weeks of the Church calendar.
Sunday, the day of the resurrection, is the day where we fully commemorate and enter into the marriage feast with our bridegroom, the One whom we love and long for. Christ our bridegroom loves us, His bride, to such a degree that He does not want us to be apart from Him. Like any sane and healthy husband longs to be with his wife and to grow ever closer to her. The Lord Jesus fulfills this deep desire for His bride and her deep desire for Him by offering us food to fulfill our deepest hunger, and drink to quench our deepest thirst. He doesn’t offer us food and drink that will only fill us up for a short time but will then leave us hungry and thirsty again. He offers us to take and eat of His body and His blood. He gives us of Himself because it is only by consuming the One who is eternal and limitless that one can be satisfied. But there is something more to this. He gives us of His body and blood in order to fully unite us to one another. The Lord teaching in the gospel of St. John says “He who eats my flesh and drinks by blood abides in Me and I in him.” The best and finest way that we unite to Jesus Christ is through partaking of holy communion. We receive the body and blood of Christ and become united to the One who united Himself to us by dying our death. In receiving Him, we are consumed by the One whom we have consumed.
It is a great gift that each Sunday we hear the word of the gospel. When the priest or the deacon comes out to read the gospel all of the people stand attentively and no one even moves while the gospel is being read. We do this out of reverence for the Lord and His word. It is an even greater gift that each Sunday, the Lord is given to us as bread and wine, the mystical body and blood. We should be even more attentive and stand reverently (if we have the strength) during the distribution of communion. We are present at the feast and the Son of the King is in our midst. We have to be reverent, much more reverent than we are during the reading of the gospel or the blessing of the priest. This is our reality. Often I don’t notice things during communion because I’m trying to be very careful while distributing the gifts but this is something that we should do as best we can. It is a sign of our deep gratitude for what is happening and a sign of our love for God who is giving Himself to His people. And love is the crucial factor in the parable.
We notice that there is a man who has been invited to the marriage feast and yet when the king arrives he sees that the man is not clothed properly. He has no marriage garment. The king has him thrown out of the banquet. Why? St. Gregory the great tells us that the garment which the man was lacking was love. In a very real sense, everyone is invited to the kingdom but not everyone will be dressed properly to stay and celebrate. St. Augustine writes “All the faithful know the story of the marriage of the king’s son, and his feast. They know that the Lord’s table is open to all who are willing correctly to receive it. But it is important that each one examines how he approaches, even when he is not forbidden to approach.” He is saying that just because you can approach to receive communion doesn’t mean that you always should approach. We have to prepare for it with confession (at least a few times a year), we have to prepare with heartfelt repentance. We have to prepare by showing acts of mercy and charity. We have to prepare through cultivating a life of prayer and not merely outward motions or intellectual belief.
What makes our appearance acceptable to God is not our outward dress or our hairdo or makeup. God is not concerned with the outward appearance, but with the things of the heart. Where is your heart? What fills your heart? Are we already fantasizing about coffee and donuts or what we will do after the liturgy? Or are we focused and present and full of love right now during this marriage feast which gives us a taste of the eternal marriage feast to which we are called? Marriage means that you devote all of yourself to the one that you love. We are here at the feast, we have accepted the invitation, don’t stop now! Go forward in you relationship, don’t let it get stagnant. Pour out your heart to God so that He can clothe you with the garment of His love. It is when you receive this love, that you truly are brought back to life. Then we won’t come to the feast as mere guests or observersbut Christ our God will welcome us to enter as His beloved family. He says to us “everything that you see here in My kingdom is for you because I love you and desire to share it all with you.” May the Lord help us to walk in a manner worthy of His holy invitation. Glory be to God Forever AMEN.