This is the Feast

Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Date: Pentecost XVIII Proper 23a + 10/12/14

Still attempting to reach out to save the religious officials who would shortly manage His execution, Jesus speaks to them another parable. It is an obvious warning not to refuse or despise God’s offer of grace in and through Jesus. That same warning is repeated today for our sakes. For there is a lot of refusal and despising of God’s Word in the world today, even in the various dark corners of our own hearts. Some will die eternally for refusing to repent of their sin and believe in God’s saving grace. Others, including you and me, will continue to agree with God’s law, repent anew of our sin and carry on in faith relying on God’s promised salvation.

That promised salvation is not some complicated formula of works or effort as all are wont to think. It is a gracious invitation to be received by faith in the work and merit of Christ. Throughout Scripture, and in today’s parable, this invitation is held out as a most joyous event like a marriage feast.

Forget for a moment (and forgive me) if you have heard me imply that pastors generally don’t like weddings. Each of us, I included, remember our wedding with great fondness. There, for all the other details of the event, the only thing that mattered was your love for your bride, your groom. The fact that you both dressed to the hilt (in most cases an expensive hilt!) only increased the beauty of the bride and the attractiveness of the groom. Today we wish to dwell on the beauty and desirability of the kingdom of God which Jesus here likens to a wedding feast. For this special occasion you notice that today we pulled out the hymn of praise, “This is the feast of victory for our God,” and we look forward to participating in the Holy Communion as “a foretaste of the feast to come.” Martin Luther himself emphasized the gracious invitation and joy of God’s salvation in preaching on this parable.

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” How so? What is that comparison? Well, like a wedding feast God’s kingdom is not like the drudgery of the work-a-day world, not a sad thing. The only tears shed on this day are tears of joy. The festive joy of a wedding, Luther notes, is expressed by people dressing up, gathering to “sing, play, strike up the band, dance, feast, drink” and be happy all around and in good spirits. So the Gospel of salvation is primarily the proclamation of divine love and joy and everything good. Like a wedding, in the kingdom of God Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride, “and our mother,” says Luther.

As with any parable you cannot press the details too far as we find ourselves there both as among the guests invited to the feast and as the bride herself as well as the offspring of this marriage. As if the picture of a normal wedding isn’t joyful enough Jesus says it is a royal wedding, the marriage of the king’s son and we the king’s daughter. Compare how many attended your wedding…to the attendance and attention paid to the British royal weddings of Queen Elizabeth in 1947, Prince Charles and Diana in 1981 and Prince William to Kate Middleton in April 2011. As with all those festive, joyful occasions, so is the kingdom of God and the Christian Church a joyful, impressive, marvelous, even royal thing.

Or is it? Is it possible that some may not catch and therefore not respond or respond only coolly to the invitation to the kingdom of God? Jesus’ parable illustrates our sinful, even demonic rejection of the Gospel of God. “So totally is the world devoted to the devil,” says Luther, “to his wedding, and to his kingdom, that it kills the prophets and apostles through whom the invitation to the Lord Christ’s wedding comes to them and all other invited guests.”

Both original sin within  us and also the power of the devil about us are not at all about joy and unity but are rather bent on separation, refusal of God’s Word and invitation. The opposite of the invitation to God’s kingdom the devil’s is only about works and human merits which is the natural way and wisdom of the blind, dead fallen nature of sinful mankind. People turn away from God’s free invitation to the preaching of lies rather than the preaching of Christ. You have heard, I imagine, all the advertising of late that the positive thinking motivational Joel Osteen is now available on Sirius XM radio. People would rather hear the words, “You have a power with in greater than any power that is against you,” than “See, I have prepared my dinner…and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”

The entire Scripture bears witness how sinners ignore and reject the invitation to this wedding feast. The first to be invited, of course, was Adam and all the patriarchs until Noah. These, says Luther, were wedding hosts and preachers summoning the world to the wedding. Yet what happened? Just like today some despised the invitation and others killed the servants sent to them.

After the patriarchs came the prophets sent to invite the people to the wedding. Yet even the people of Israel, God’s own chosen ones, despised God’s grace and killed the prophets.

Finally, as the parable says, the bridegroom himself came. But for all His ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, all invitations to repent of their rejection of God and come to the feast by faith in Him, still they killed the bridegroom and even drove the bride out of Jerusalem.

So are all who ignore or reject the gospel like the one who went off to his farm or to his business, saying, “What is the Bible to me?” or “What is heaven to me?” compared to my possessions and my busy life in the world right now?

Friends, we have heard God’s gracious invitation and by our baptism are already seated at the table with the guests. Though we still walk by faith, shouldering our crosses, we rejoice nevertheless with angels and all the company of heaven that we have been changed, clothed with the righteousness of our Lord, our bridegroom, Jesus Christ the Son of God. And so it is now that He has invited, indeed, commanded us already to eat and drink at His table. Here under the forms of bread and wine into our mouths He says He gives us His body and blood so that He may live in us and we in Him both now and for eternity.

This, “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia,” and for us! Here, by this sacrament, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes, saying, “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.” The rest of this hymn of praise is but the joining of our voices, as in the Gloria in Excelsis and the eternal Sanctus, with the eternal praises of the angels. The joy of the Bridegroom be yours.