The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (14:16-24)
Today we hear the beautiful parable about the great banquet. This reading is given to us today as we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are being reminded that the feast of the nativity (Christmas) is close at hand.
We are also reminded that the kingdom of God, the heavenly kingdom is like a great banquet given by a king. Because it is a great banquet and because God Himself is the generous king, He desires to invite as many people as possible to come and partake of this banquet, to celebrate with Him. After all, what kind of a celebration is it, when no one is there to celebrate and share in the joy with us? Why does the whole world celebrate Christmas? Because God invited humanity to share in the divinity of His only Son through the incarnation or the humanity of His Son. What an invitation! What a thing worthy of celebration! Of course over many centuries this celebration has become less religious and more cultural, a sign of the general decline of the Christian faith in the lives of the people. However it’s roots are solid.
In the reading, as our Lord Jesus Christ was teaching the people He reminded them that God, His Father, had invited many many people to the banquet and that many of them had rejected and would continue to reject the invitation in the future. Why did they reject the invitation? Was it because they were bad people? Not necessarily. Each one of the people in the parable had a very good excuse as to why they could not possibly come to the banquet. Can I tell you a secret? Nearly everyone who has ever contacted me to tell my why they couldn’t come to the divine liturgy on a Sunday morning had a good excuse in their own mind. That should terrify us because we easily fall into self-delusion and we think that our excuses will justify us before God. But when we read this parable we find out that this is not the case. One of the beautiful things about the gospels is that they are straightforward and leave no room for an escape.
God is loving, understanding and full of mercy. But God also gave us an invitation to dine with Him out of this same mercy and love for us. If we continually make excuses for why we are not dedicating time to prayer, to worship and to life in Christ then we have a problem. This invitation from God is about our life of worship, the life of the Church and this is most relevant in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
What we do on Sunday morning is really important, it is the earthly fulfillment of the heavenly banquet in as much as it is possible for us. St. Sophrony of Essex writes that “The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us…every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany. The body of Christ appears. Every member of the Church is an icon of the kingdom of God.”
Every day of the week is connected to the other. Every day is an opportunity to accept or reject the invitation of Christ in our hearts. Every day leads us back to Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day of the resurrection. Every day is either an affirmation of our Sunday lives or a denial of what we do on Sunday morning. Every day and every choice of every day either reinforces our worship or erodes it.
I mentioned to the parents on Tuesday night that part of raising our teens to become holy men and women is to immerse them in the life of the Church, the life of Christ both inside and outside the walls of the church. That is the easiest way to learn a language, immersion. Certainly there are times when we have legitimate reasons why we can’t make it to the church to worship. Certainly there are times when we can’t keep our home prayer rules and our other spiritual disciplines but we have to be careful not to be like the folks in this parable. Perhaps we need to look at our life and reprioritize things to focus on Christ our God.
“But Father, we are already here! Are we “off the hook’?” Absolutely not! We have done good by choosing to be here. But you can be here in the body and far away in the mind and heart. You could already be at coffee hour in your mind, or at lunch, or in a multitude of other possible places. You could also be here and faithful today but the rest of the week you contradict the teachings of Christ in your life. We are invited to go deeper in our life of worship so that it will be true worship done with our whole person and not simply our physical presence in this place. When this type of integrated worship happens that is something really special. That is how we fully accept the invitation to the banquet and in turn we find that our participation in the banquet transforms us!
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco writes, “For a man’s complete sanctification, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is accomplished in the Mystery of Holy Communion. The true Body and the true Blood of Christ which we receive become part of the great Body of Christ. Of course, for union with Christ, the mere conjoining of our body with the Body of Christ does not suffice. The consumption of the Body of Christ becomes beneficial when in spirit we strive towards Him and unite ourselves with Him. Receiving the Body of Christ, while turning away from Him in spirit, is like the contact with Christ which they had who struck Him and mocked and crucified Him. Their contact with Him served not for their salvation and healing, but for their condemnation. But those who partake with piety, love and readiness to serve Him, closely unite themselves with Him and become instruments of His Divine will.”
May we run to accept this divine invitation to share in the life of God. AMEN.