Sunday, October 9, 2011

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

At this point in my ministry as a deacon –
four and a half years after my ordination –
I have performed a fair number of wedding ceremonies
and I realize that wedding can be times of high tension
 for everybody involved.
But even so, the characters in the parable
that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel
seem unusually stressed-out.
We’ve all received invitations
to weddings we did not particularly want to attend,
but it seems a bit extreme
to kill the person delivering the invitation.
And while it might hurt our feelings
to have our invitation rejected,
it hardly seems a fitting response
to burn down the city where the invitee lives.
And though an underdressed guest
might raise a few eyebrows,
we would probably not tie up his hands and feet
and cast him “into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth”
(presumably the wailing and grinding of teeth
of those who cannot get into this joyous celebration).

Matthew’s version of Jesus’ parable
is hardly a realistic depiction
of even the most emotionally fraught wedding.
But of course it’s not really a parable about wedding etiquette
and the deadly consequences of breaching that etiquitte.
Jesus’ parable trades upon the imagery
of the great feast at the end of time
that God, our first reading tells us,
“will provide for all peoples,”
a feast of “rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”
At this feast, “The Lord God will wipe away
the tears from every face.”
It is this feast that fulfills the promise in our second reading
that “God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

The book of Revelation presents a particularly striking image
of this great feast at the end of time
in which Christ the lamb is united to his spouse, the Church.
At this feast the joyous guests sing, “Alleluia!
The Lord has established his reign,
God, the almighty.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory.
For the wedding day of the Lamb has come,
his bride has made herself ready. . .
Blessed are those who have been called
to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6-7, 9a).

In all these texts the joy of a wedding feast
at which two lives are joined together
becomes an image of the joyous event
of the union of our life with God’s life,
when God will consummate human history,
wipe away all its tears,
and fill every cup to overflowing. 

In the Eucharist that we celebrate every Sunday
we share already in the wedding feast of the Lamb.
I have heard the Eucharist described
as the rehearsal dinner for the Lamb’s wedding feast
but I believe it is something more than that
because in the Eucharist the Lamb is truly present with us
and the wedding feast is already begun.
We come, week after week,
to have our lives joined to the life of God,
to have our tears wiped away,
to have our cups filled to overflowing.

In the new translation of the Mass
that, as I mentioned last week, we will soon be using
the invitation to communion will now be,
“Behold the Lamb of God,
behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
This is not only a more literal translation of the Latin,
but it makes just a bit clearer the connection of our Eucharist
with the wedding supper of the Lamb –
the great feast that God provides for all people
at the consummation of history.

We have been called, like the guests in the parable,
to the wedding supper of the Lamb
who has taken away our sins,
and we are indeed truly blessed
to have received this call.
But the parable is also a warning
not to take lightly so great a call.
Though the actions of the characters in the parable
seem extreme,
the very exaggeration of those actions
drives home the point
that this is a call to the feast of life itself
and to decline that invitation
is to reject the gift of life that is offered.
At the same time,
 the invitation is not to be accepted lightly;
we are to adorn our souls
with the wedding garment of love,
a garment that, as St. Gregory the Great put it,
is woven of two strands of wool:
love of God and love of neighbor (Homily 37).

In the Church we sometimes speak of the “Sunday obligation” –
that is, the obligation of all Catholics
to be present at Mass each Sunday.
But if we understand what the Eucharist is –
that it is our sharing in the wedding feast of the Lamb –
then the language of obligation,
which we might associate
with something we do grudgingly and under duress,
might seems to miss the mark a bit.
At the same time, as our parable reminds us,
how we respond to this invitation
is a matter of life and death,
and our weekly presence
at the wedding feast of the Lamb
is an obligation,
but not an obligation that we owe to God
or to the Church
but to ourselves:
the obligation
to let our lives be joined to God’s,
to let our tears be wiped away,
to let our cup be filled to overflowing.

Blessed indeed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.