Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. Isaiah 25:6
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."' Matthew 22:1-4
I always look forward to weddings because I get to see a side of my husband come out that you don’t often get to see. It’s like he magically comes alive. He leaves behind all inhibition, heads out on the dance floor and exuberantly moves like someone from another world. His tie often ends up wrapped around his forehead. His shirt drips from the sweat. His dance moves are… bewildering. You can’t help but smile and laugh when you watch someone fully take in the moment and joy of a party.
I, on the other hand, tend to be an observer. I learned early on that if I take a camera with me to events, I can easily stay behind the lens and then I don’t have to be in the middle of the action. I don’t have to fake like I have energy or that I’m living in the moment. I can just enjoy and appreciate the fact that everyone else does. I rarely make it to parties – if I do, I hover around the food table and then sneak out after 15 minutes. Honestly, on a given Friday night, I can usually be found on the couch with some cheese dip watching a movie.
God seems to talk a lot about feasts and celebrations in the Bible. In fact, they seem to come up more than most other topics in the parables and teachings of Jesus (if you take out the topic of money, of course). And while there are obvious Eucharistic and Eschatological themes here, sometimes I wonder if we miss a more practical and maybe more controversial thought: God loves a good party. Now obviously I’m not talking about an out-of-control, unholy event. But He seems to love celebrations, feasting on the best food and choice wines, bringing a community of people together in joy. The best example he could give of heaven is a feast, a wedding, a celebration, a party. But then you look at us, Christians, and we often seem to be too afraid to let our hair down, too concerned that others might judge us, and too ‘perfect’ to let go and really celebrate.
I grew up in Arkansas, the land of Southern Baptists, a land flowing with rich food (thank you cheese dip, biscuits & gravy and fried chicken) but not so much choice wines (or any alcohol in our dry county for that matter). My first experience seeing Christians drinking alcohol was in the Middle East of all places. Bethlehem is a town mixed with Palestinian Christians and Muslims and the Christians there drank. I wondered how that could be and they explained that it was an outward sign that they were, indeed, Christians. Muslims are not allowed to drink and these Christians were proud of their freedom to drink.
Now I certainly don’t want you to think that the subject of this weekly reflection is about alcohol because that would be missing the point (not to mention that I have a deep respect for those that choose to refrain from it). That summer in Bethlehem opened my eyes to a side of Christianity I had not seen: the ability to rejoice in our freedom. In a religion where I had only seen rules, I was starting to see that God wanted me to celebrate being alive, rejoicing that He has saved me. He wants me to live more in the present, enjoy being with other humans, to celebrate love and friendship and life. Believe it or not, I tend to lean more on the serious side. What’s it say when my God seems to have more fun than I do?!
So, my reminder as I hear the Old Testament reading, Psalm AND Gospel reading this Sunday is that I don’t have to be some uptight fuddy-duddy. God created me to be ALIVE, to celebrate with those I love, to go out to eat with friends, to get really into playing that game around the table, to throw my head back and laugh heartily, to immerse myself into that fun story that my friend is telling, and to get out on the dance floor and dance like no one’s watching. Do we need any more reminders that God breathed LIFE into us?
Let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us! – Isaiah 25:9