The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (14:16-24)
Our Lord Jesus Christ has desired that His people should know and understand His heart and His thoughts. This is why He taught us with parables. These parables help us to understand the Lord, His kingdom, His desires for each of us. One cannot look for the meaning of life in the abstract. The meaning of life flows naturally from understanding the source and creator of life. Listen and understand.
In the parable the Lord tells us that a man once gave a great banquet. This man was very excited to share this banquet with all of the people that He knew. He told His servants to go and invite all of them. But then something very strange happened: one by one, those who were invited, began to make excuses for themselves as to why they could not possibly come to the great banquet to which they had each been invited.
This parable is of course about participation in the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God itself is lived out and experienced most powerfully here in the Divine Liturgy. It is for this reason that the priest begins the Liturgy with these words “Blessed is the Kingdom”. If you would like further proof that this parable connects us to the liturgy then you have to look no further than verse 23 where the master says the following, “compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” The house is none other than the house of God, the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. 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.”
The parable of Our Lord is an invitation, a calling, a warning and a promise. It is an invitation to sit with God and feast with Him. It is an invitation to a relationship because the sign of a good relationship is that we sit together at the same table and break bread. It is a calling to partake of the body and blood of Christ, the heavenly bread. It is a warning that even if we find all of the best excuses that we could possibly come up with, even if the excuses are reasonable from an earthly perspective, God is quite unreasonable in some ways. He will take our invitations and our places of honor away from us. He promises that one way or another His house will be filled with those who desire to be where He is. Those who desire Christ, His saints, His angels, His sacred body and blood and all of the grace and treasures of God.
What are the excuses that keep some from coming to the Church? There are too many to list. What are the excuses that might even keep us from growing closer to Christ when we do attend the services? It’s even possible that one can be standing in the Church but their mind and heart is elsewhere. So this parable is useful even then. Because one is not present and active unless they give their whole heart and soul and body to the activity that they are doing. So the perfect way to fulfill the first and greatest commandment is to worship God in prayer and the prayer that is above all prayers is the Divine Liturgy.
So it doesn’t make sense for me to tell you to come to the church and to participate in the Liturgy since you are already here. But it makes sense for me to encourage you to raise your level of participation so that you can take every possible benefit from this great gift that Christ is sharing with you. How do you raise your level of participation? We prepare the night before the liturgy by making sure we don’t spend the night in parties and staying up late watching unwholesome programs or movies. We stay away from our phones and computers especially the apps and websites that might ignite our passions. We might choose to spend extra time reading good spiritual works as well as spending some time either the night before or the morning of the liturgy praying some of the prayers of preparation for holy communion.
On the morning of the liturgy there shouldn’t be loud music playing in the car on the way to the church. Worldly music inflames the passions. If you inflame your passions and desires then you will find it much harder to focus and pray. You need your heart to become a tranquil pond, but through the improper use of your senses especially sight and hearing, your heart will be like a raging sea in the middle of a storm. You and I are called to be the Temple of the living God, not a disco or nightclub or amusement park. Take this invitation from Christ seriously. God wants to know you more intimately and He wants to abide with us and in us. He wants to renew and restore us and give us new, vibrant life. He wants to share the power of His resurrection with each of us. So come to the liturgy with zeal and focus, knowing that we don’t come to smell incense or see friendly faces or hear an average sermon. We come to meet Christ face to face in His house. What a blessing!
Let me leave you with a beautiful quote from St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco who said,
“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.” AMEN.