Welcome to the feast

Matthew’s parable of the marriage feast (Matt. 22. 1-14) has its origins in something much older. Luke has a version of it too, both probably added to it in order to say something to their communities. Matthew to the Jews, Luke to a wider audience. So the great supper in Luke becomes a Marriage feast and the certain man becomes a king. Matthew raises the stakes as he tells the story. Christians were being persecuted, the temple destroyed in 70ce and so we hear this reflected in the story as slaves are killed and the ‘king’ sends his army to burn the city.

How might we re-tell it today? Who is offering the feast and for whom? Who is invited? Who turns away? What are the consequences? Who ends up at the meal?

Don’t get confused with Matthew tagging on the bit about the marriage garment, it’s a different story, and asks: ‘Are we clothed with the right frame of mind?’ Not as you might be tempted to read it, that, even if you’ve been invited, you’re still not welcome. Everyone has been invited, and everyone is welcome. Some just choose to choose not to come.

Can we talk of a spiritual malaise of our time with this parable? I wonder what for us is the feast? Are there many who have chosen to choose not to partake? I don’t mean turning up to church on a Sunday morning, for that can be as bad as anything else we do without the ‘right garment’ (don’t forget that’s not about millinery).

We’ve lost a language of the feast of the kingdom. The language to speak of deep things such as pain and suffering and death and by and large we have been distracted by trivial matters because it is so difficult to talk about things that are real. Some years ago a film tried in part to speak about this – many people avoided it because of the violence, language and drug use, however it did have a point and it called us to reflect on our choices:

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning”

This sounds so old, it is.  20 years in fact.  I suspect even if you’d not seen Trainspotting, you’ll recognise the rail against materialism which I’m told is all but over. it’s been replaced by exerientialism. Which may not have been a word until a few moments ago. Welcome to the consumption of experience. (Radio 4’s Costing the earth addresses this very issue) By the way, did anyone tweet that they were coming to church this morning, or is it on facebook, instagram, snapchat? There is now 4G here so you could probably live web cast the experience… (if you wanted to…) So the twenty years later sequel T2 rails against social media and offers a jab at the culture of zero hour contracts, unfulfilled promises, never learning from our mistakes, slowly reconciling ourselves towards what we can get rather than what we had dreamed of, Watching history repeat itself.
And again the King invites us to the feast and still we’re not yet ready. We’ve been distracted by stone temples, faculties, PCC meetings, summer fetes, the size of scones with jam first, or is it scones with cream first and the minutes of the last meeting mis-spelling someones name, the lighting not being to the current ecological expectations, cutting the grass to less than a quarter inch lest someone complain. And we neglect to speak of the great things that attending the feast brings. The feast of life that is living with God’s love. The love that knows no limit. Living in the knowledge of who we are despite what we might own or have means to do. The love of life for its own sake, the life that Jesus taught us to have, and to have in abundance.

Welcome to the feast.

One EASTER Day

onedayposterDuring Lent I’ve been reflecting each week on the film One Day.  It is a story about love, life, death and resurrection.  It doesn’t describes specifically the events of our Easter story at all – however, it does give us a window into the ebb and flow of two ordinary lives lived in and out of relationship with each other.  And through those lives portrayed we, perhaps, can see through to something else.  The film has taken us on a journey with two friends, Emma and Dexter, whose lives we visit once each year on St. Swithin’s day.  15th July.  This is much how our Gospels are written, dipping in and out of the events and lives of Jesus and his companions.  In One Day we move from terrible London flats smelling of onions to awful post university jobs in restaurants and television.  From meetings in France to returning to the family home.  From difficult conversations with parents to distant answer phone messages.  Missed calls and missed opportunities.  From new jobs, to new boyfriends.  From bad jobs to car crash employment.  Terrible live television to all star school plays.  Rows in restaurants to dead end relationships.  Break downs and making up to put downs and pick me ups.  By the end we are left with two people who we know so very well and who ought to be so very right for one another.  They are comfortable with each other, though not always comforting.  Our patience with their painfully slow coming together is rewarded with a romantic liaison in Paris, the wedding, plans for children of their own.  The dream is unfolding, and then, we ought to expect it as in many romantic stories but we don’t, it is cut short suddenly by violence.  Where there was a comforting voice there is now silence.  Where there was a companion there is now an empty chair.  Where there was a loving caress there is nothing.  And our Gospels have taken us on a whirlwind snapshot tour from a backstreet birth, refugees travelling the road, baptisms, weddings, funerals, confrontations, healings and reconciliations and the action slows somewhat to dwell on the events of the last weeks with friends’ hospitality, costly gifts and borrowed transport to the sudden reality of a trial that was only going to go one way.  So many of our reflections at Easter focus on triumph of good over evil, light banishing darkness, pain giving way to healing as if this is the end of the story – and a happy ever after.  The End.  And yet this does not reflect our lives, and it certainly does not reflect the stories contained in the Gospel accounts of Easter.  If we look closely, and, reflecting on the end of the film One Day, we notice a similarity.  Grief is raw.  Emma is gone.  Dexter feels that he is alone.  It takes him years to recover from the curse of 15th July.  But eventually he picks himself up, and like the disciples goes back to work.  He listens to both his father.  ‘Live as if she were still here,’ he tells Dexter, ‘what do you think I’ve been doing for the past ten years?’  And he listens to the voice of Emma.  ‘Wake up, wake up’.  A voice from a time almost forgotten.  ‘Whatever happens tomorrow, we’ve had today’. Says Emma,  One Day.
The first Easter was not a time of joyful excitement, or exuberant parties it was difficult, a time of fear and tears.  The words used in our Gospel reading today reflect this.  We are told they were  ‘perplexed’  ‘terrified’ it was ‘an idle tale’ and they did ‘not believe’ it and then they were just ‘amazed’.  As we munch on chocolate eggs thankful that forty days of abstinence is now over, things have not changed much.  We are often left perplexed and terrified by the events of our world.  Easter is not a single moment in time, but a series of One Day at a time.  Living each of them as if Jesus were still with us, amongst us, commanding us to continue to love one another might well be a place to begin.

One Day won’t last forever

anointedbeforestormPassion Sunday for me is about being uncomfortable in a comfortable place.  A bolt hole, a place of refuge, a place to go before a difficult encounter.  A favourite cafe.  A bench on a hill.  A place with friends where one can be natural, uninhibited, perhaps.  A place to relax and let the hair down.  A place of calm before the storm.  A place to go running.  A favourite film perhaps that takes us away from reality for a while.  Something to watch and indulge in before returning to important tasks. During Lent I’ve been reflecting each week on the film One Day.  The film has taken us on a journey with two friends whose lives we visit once each year on St. Swithin’s day.  From terrible London flats smelling of onions to awful post university jobs in restaurants and television.  From meetings in France to returning to the family home.  From difficult conversations with parents to distant answer phone messages.  Missed calls and missed opportunities.  From new jobs, to new boyfriends.  From bad jobs to car crash employment.  Terrible live television to all star school plays.  Rows in restaurants to dead end relationships.  Break downs and making up to put downs and pick me ups.  By the end we are left with two people who we know so very well and who ought to be so very right for one another.  They are comfortable with each other, though not always comforting to each other.  Comfortable like an old sofa which has learnt our body shape.  By the end it is being in the sort of place that you might think ought never to come to an end.  Like a favourite book which we put down just before the final chapter because we would rather not finish it off.  But come to an end the story must.  Passion Sunday.  The moment before the final moment.  The calm before the storm.  Gathered with friends in a house sharing a meal together.  We are told that at least Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Judas and Jesus were there.  The comfortable moment is broken as Mary anoints Jesus with nard and Judas complains about the cost of it.  One Day only gives us a day a year, but it is enough to become close.  At the end it leaves us wondering about the missed moments and that we really need to make the most of each moment that we do see.  The Gospel readings are the same in that we only hear a little of the story.  Six days before the passover, we see them gathered together.  A place of preparation.  A time to reflect with friends over a meal, have you ever noticed the meal mentioned before?  Before make their way into Jerusalem.  What else went on at that gathering?  It seems to me that Mary and Martha’s house was a place to gather and plan their strategy.  We hear that Jesus visits this home on at least three occasions.  A friends house would be the ideal place to plan the next move.  To plan the events we are about to remember from Palm Sunday to Easter.  It seems a deliberate attempt was being made to provoke the authorities.  For such an encounter, preparation is perhaps the most important.  Not the twenty years as we see in One Day.  But the point of a comfortable place of refuge is for that space of preparation and if preparation is required, then there ought to be some form of confrontation.    Was that the point of meeting at the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  We hear none of that sat around the meal table with Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Judas and Jesus.  The conversation turns sour as Judas remarks on the perfume and Jesus retorts about his future.  As we prepare to enter into that story at the passover festival, are we left in anticipation of the final moment? Or is the story a little too familiar.  One that perhaps we think we know very well and so read it through quickly.  So this Passion Sunday, I’d like to invite you to dwell with this image of Jesus sat around the table with his friends.  What would we like to know?  What questions would we ask at that table?  Would we be the one to break open the jar of ointment?  What was the smell like?  Was it this event that prompted the writing down of this event, turned into a prophetic moment of Jesus’ final days as he remarks that he will not always be with them.  The moment is gone as quickly as it came, the story moves on to the next moment.  For us, for a while, it is good to be left around that table with the remains of the meal and to consider where we might go after such an encounter.  Do we choose to walk onwards with Jesus to Jerusalem, or choose to remain in the place of safety and comfort?