A sermon for the Church of the Epiphany’s service of Morning Prayer online on October 11, 2020. The Gospel reading is Matthew’s parable of the wedding feast.
What if this wedding were not about the king and his slaves, the guests and their clothing, the invited and the uninvited and the smited?
What if this parable were about the bridegroom and his beloved?
I am not saying that this is the meaning of the parable – I don’t know that it is possible to pin down that too exactly, and the brilliance of Jesus, the Word of God, as storyteller means that his creations can evolve, and translated by the Holy Spirit speak to us in different languages and tongues, as our language, our needs, and our sins have evolved in the centuries since this tale was first told.
But what if it were about the bridegroom? Jesus has elsewhere claimed that mantle and that title. He who, for all we know, was never married is not shy of evoking the feast, the celebration, the consummation that the role of bridegroom implies for his relationship with us, the church.
If this parable were about the bridegroom and his beloved, then the king and his worries about who will come and how they will dress and whether they will reflect well or poorly on his influence and standing are like Jesus’ words to Martha, “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” (Luke 10:41-42) Martha’s sister chose the better part, which was to attend to and to adore the bridegroom himself.
If the parable is about the bridegroom, then we are free, like Mary, to imagine ourselves in relationship with him. We are free to attend to him, to look upon him, to love him. We are free to imagine ourselves beloved by him, bound to him by covenant.
What if the kingdom of God were less about who is in or out, less about status or occupation or appearance, and more about mutual, covenanted love: the kind of love Christ models as bridegroom to the church, who loves us tenderly as though we were his own body. (Ephesians 5:25-30)
What if our covenant with Christ calls us to reciprocate that kind of love? What if our duties and privilege as citizens of the kingdom of heaven call us to love with that kind of tenderness? To treat our neighbour’s health as though we were caring for our own body? To clothe the stranger with the same kind of care and attention as we tend to our own needs for comfort, for warmth, for dignity? What if we were called even to sacrifice for the sake of the beloved, to share our worldly possessions and to bear with those who bear the image of the bridegroom, the image of God in Christ, for better or for worse?
What if the parable were about that kind of marriage, that kind of covenant, that kind of love?
It wouldn’t mean of course that the rest doesn’t matter: the pride and jealousy, the sneering and snarling, the slavery, the violence, the spite that echoes through the rest of the parable. They are still problems. They are still problems.
But it would give us a different starting point to look for their solutions. Instead of coercion, love. Instead of bullying, love. Instead of pride, love. Instead of judgement, love. Instead of rage, love.
I heard the news this weekend of the sudden deaths of two men whom I have known to love Christ deeply, and to serve Christ’s people out of that immeasurable well of love. I am shocked and saddened at the news of Fr Paul and of Br Andrew; yet I know that each of them has found his vows fulfilled, and that each has come into the embrace of his bridegroom.
In the midst of grief, there is love.
Amidst the flailing and failing and wailing and gnashing of teeth of this parable, there in the inner sanctum, at the centre of the feast, awaiting our attention, the bridegroom is patient, and faithful, and true, and beloved, let us not be distracted from him.