I want you to use your memory. I want you to recall the nicest meal you have ever eaten. Recall where you ate it? Who were you with? What made it special? What did you eat? How did you eat? Hold on to that memory and let us give thanks!
In our first reading today there is talk of a special meal. It has all the good stuff. Good food and rich wine, nice location, and everybody is there. Yup! Everyone is invited. Isaiah says, “All people!”
In preparation for the meal God is going to do a few things: He will wipe away the sadness that hovers over the land, he will destroy death itself. God will wipe away the tears that flow from our faces and then he will take away the shame and disgrace that robs us of our joy. In response the people will say, “This is what we have been waiting for.” This will make the meal different. We will definitely want to come and celebrate.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the story of another meal – it is a parable and cannot and must not be taken literally. It is different from the first meal story. A king is trying to get people to come to a banquet in honor of his son’s wedding and the folks who should come find reasons not to. Finally, he fills his table, but one of the people he has invited tries to sabotage the meal…he comes but he refuses to wear the wedding garment. He is present but unwilling to join in the celebration. He wants to do things his way. This is not about clothes – it is about refusing to join with the rest of the folks, to do what the rest of the folks are doing – it is doing things his way – apart from everyone else – refusing the generosity and spirit of the King’s meal.
St Paul is speaking to the Philippians about his life. He tells them he has been poor and he has been rich. Because of Christ he has learned to be content with a lot and he has learned to be content with a little. He reminds the Christians at Philippi that Christ will give them all that they need to deal with life if they enter into relationship with him. Christ will change their lives.
For the next few months, I want to talk about the way we prepare for the mass, how we celebrate it and how we let it shape our daily life. I hope that my reflections will do two things. On the one hand, I hope they help us to give more generously of ourselves to the celebration of the mass and I hope they help us to let go of things/habits and practices that get in the way of our full, active and conscious, participation in this most sacred event.
A couple of things stand out in sacred scripture today – God’s invitation to all people to come to the mountain and share in the banquet. We hear it in the first reading and we hear it from the mouth of Jesus. St. Paul suggests that a relationship with Jesus will change how we engage life – whether we are rich or poor, our lives are changed when we enter into a relationship with Jesus.
What is key is this, God calls each of us by name. Each of us and all of us. So often we see each other as strangers or enemies. We try to control what others think and how they behave. We look at one another with the attitude that if you were as smart as me the world would be a better place.
The God most of us know is watching us, waiting for us to fail, ready to punish us. The God most people talk about is cranky and small minded, waiting for us to make a mistake. The God of Jesus looks at us, and loves us as we are! Not as we should be. As we are – today! While we were sinners he was willing to die for us.
God calls us! Every person who walks this earth is invited to the banquet of God – to the Lord’s table. The desire of God is that our tears, our disgrace our shame, our dying is wiped away. The desire of our God is that we come to the table that God has prepared, ready and willing to celebrate. Not reluctantly or grudgingly but freely and with the desire to be with others.
If we are honest – every person in this building is a sinner – starting with me. We are not here because we are better than anyone else – we are here because God has called us. We are looking for freedom, for forgiveness, and for belonging. We want a God who will liberate us. We want to see ourselves as God sees us. At the same time, we are frightened. We are afraid of what we are and we are afraid of what we are not. We know how many times we fail and it is hard to believe that anyone, including God, can love us just as we are. It is hard to believe that God can love some of the people we know, some of the people who make up this world.
We are here at mass (physically or virtually) because God has called us. We might be here because we can hear the words of our parents or grandparents saying – you have to go to mass. We might be here because someone has said, “Get in the car, you are going to Church!” We might be here because that is just what people in our family do – they go to mass. We might be here because deep in the depths of our being we have heard the voice of God calling our name.
When we scrape away all the reasons for being here – some easy and delightful, some painful and worrisome – we are here because God has called us here. God wants us to taste his promise, his love. God wants to wipe away the sadness that covers our world, he wants to destroy death, wipe away our tears, our shame, our disgrace, our fears and our anxieties. God loves us and wants us at his banquet.
So, come Saturday or Sunday someone is inviting you to take part in mass – set aside their reasons. I invite you to hear in their invitation, the voice of God saying to you, I love you. Get in touch with the promise of God who wants to heal you, feed you and nourish you so that you can see that your wonderful and painful life has value. Hear God telling you that you matter to him and to the world.
Coming to mass is not just about you however, it is about all of us – God’s people. When we gather for mass we do what the community does. I stand when the community stands, sit when the community sits, kneel when the community kneels. I am silent when the community is silent, I sing when the community sings and I pray the prayers the community prays. Liturgy is the public prayer/the public work of the people; all sacraments are public prayer and they invite us to prepare in a special way.
Our liturgical celebrations are not about what I want – they are about us as a community. They are about welcome and hospitality. They are about reaching out and sharing what I have with others. They are about listening and learning. They are about being fed from the two tables, the table of the Word of God AND the table of the Eucharist. They are about leaving here with a desire to make the world a better place for all people and not just the rich, the powerful, and those who are like me. When I leave this place, God is asking me to move beyond my – SELF so that the other is lifted up, transformed. I don’t come to mass for me, for what I want or need. I come to mass as I am (wonderful, gifted, limited and broken). I come for God and the People of God.
As we continue our prayer today let us lift our gaze from me and mine to the God who loves us and who calls us here. We are the folks standing at the crossroads – we are the ones who are being invited in to the banquet. We are the ones who have been asked to put on the wedding garment. Can I let go of me, so that I can put on the wedding garment? The garment that signals I care about the common good above my own wants and needs. The garment that signals my desire to care for the earth above my desire for profit. The garment that signals my desire to care for all people regardless of their race, language or way of life.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI