Once upon a time, an engaged couple had gone to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston to plan their wedding, and every detail they selected they were determined to be the very best—food, china, flowers, music. They both had expensive taste and the bill showed it—$20,000—and half of it was due on the spot as a down-payment.
Everything was moving along smoothly until the day the wedding invitations were to go in the mail. The groom announced that he couldn’t go through with it. He got cold feet.
Now the hurt and angry bride-to-be had to go back to the Hyatt to cancel the banquet, only to learn that there was no way to get back the down-payment. The contract was binding. There were only two options—to forfeit the down-payment or to go ahead with the party.
The bride was of course outraged at this. But the more she thought about it, the clearer she was that she would go ahead with the party. Now, though, it wouldn’t be a wedding banquet, but instead just a great big blowout. And so in June the Hyatt Hotel had a party the likes of which no one had ever quite seen. The jilted bride changed the menu to boneless chicken— “in honor of the groom,” she said—and sent invitations to the homeless shelters and rescue missions in the city. And so that summer evening people accustomed to finding their meals in the trash bins of the city made their way through the grand lobby of the Hyatt to a meal of chicken cordon bleu. Black-tied waiters served hors d’oeuvres to people in rags. Many had their bags of worldly goods with them, reminders of the hard life they were living. But for this night they were treated like kings and queens—sipping champagne, eating chocolate wedding cake, dancing into the night. The jilted bride redeemed a bad situation and turned it to a blessing for others.
Wedding banquets are powerful events. Whether it is the humble reception in the bride’s backyard or potluck dinner in the church basement – or an opulent spread with guests flown first class to Venice, Italy—wedding banquets bring people together. They forge ties, renew relationships and remind us that a marriage really isn’t just about two people – it’s about connecting all the communities the bridal couple represents – family, friends, neighbors, professional, business, political -- you name it. So, to do this, couples and their parents spend thousands of dollars and spent literally months in planning – in Manhattan alone precovid, it averaged around $80,000 for the perfect tie-the-knot party.
Jesus understood the importance of wedding banquets, parties, suppers, parties and feasts as images of the happiness and joy of what it means to be with God. Wedding feasts in biblical times often lasted a week, brought communities together for joyful celebration in the midst of monotonous, relentlessly grueling work with a meager diet. But like the groom who got cold feet, there are killjoys that would dampen the spirit of a party. Look at our Exodus lesson. Waiting for a long time for Moses’ return from the mountain, the people convinced Aaron to create them a god, made with their golden jewelry they had melted down. They proclaimed this calf took them out of Egypt, they offered sacrifices and threw a huge party. The first big party since they crossed the Red Sea, through months of a grueling journey. They couldn’t stay faithful to God’s plan, God’s vision, God’s party. They were disobedient killjoys.
Our gospel lesson also talks about the impact of killjoys in the face of the feast. Jesus uses examples that his audience would clearly get. A story about a king and a story about a wedding banquet. Kings had absolute power over their subjects. Emperors were often considered divine, sons of God. One did not disobey a king lightly, especially if one valued their life.
So, it is without questions that the King in Jesus’ story is powerful and supreme. This venerable king plans a wedding banquet for his son and sends out invitations. Can we imagine the honor of such an invitation? Can we imagine the scandal to ignore or turn down a request from one’s sovereign? Yet this King is tolerant. Maybe the invitees lost their invitation, maybe they forgot. So, the second invitation, the most important one that specified the date of the banquet, spells it out further: the dinner is already prepared, there’s delicious fattened ox and fatted calves on the menu. Food one gets once in a blue moon. Everything is ready, so come.
Did the invitees change their heart, seeing to what lengths the king has gone to prepare this amazing feast? No. They make light of it. They play down the sacrifice the king has made. They disregard the importance of the wedding banquet. They dishonor the king; the bridal couple and all the king represents. With stunning disregard, they walk away from the King’s invitation. This is treason! They maltreat and even kill some of the King’s messengers. This is insurrection. So, the king, instead of welcoming guests to his son’s wedding banquet, must first send troops to put down this rebellion. They are destroyed and the city burned to the ground, as was customary in dealing with traitors.
The king however insists the show must go on. The food is already prepared, and he is determined to find people to attend. He sends his slaves to invite everyone, good and bad, to fill the wedding hall with guests.
However, there is the strangest twist. Once everyone is in the party the king spots a guest who does not have a proper wedding robe. Garments would have been made available to invitees to reflect the dignity and joy of the celebration. The king is stunned to find someone who deliberately disobeys the custom. So, the king brutally orders the improperly clothed man not just thrown out of the party- but bound hand and foot – thrown into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would have been better for the man had he not shown up at all.
Jesus tell us that being a guest does not mean you come and do as you please. Sure, there is a party, but are we willing to enter into the spirit of the party? Will we wear our party clothes? Will we join in the dance? Because if we decide to come in wearing our grubby, stained clothes, if we decide to remain our own self-absorbed self, act any way we please, drink too much, offend everyone else, we may physically be at the party, but the party won’t be in us.
We thought the king would settle for a noisy crowd of people who would just come in and be their same old selves. Not on your life. This king Jesus tells us wants everyone to catch the spirit, to taste this banquet of peace and joy.
This God is throwing a party for the losers as well as the winners, for the sinners as well as the good, for those who have never darkened the door of a church as well as for the ushers and the members of the altar guild. Everyone, everyone, is already in. So, the good news is Jesus is throwing a great party and we are invited. However, we have been invited to a banquet, not a funeral or a fast. We must be banquet people.
We have to get into the spirit of the party. We have to be engaged—to go to work on developing a prayer life, take a class, find a project to ease the world’s pain. Jesus’ invitation calls for conversion, for clean clothes. New wine in new wineskins. If you let me, Jesus said, I will make you into bright, radiant creatures of joy made for eternity. But that will mean growth and change.
You see it is possible to come to the party and miss the party.
Every day we wake up alive and breathing God has prepared a banquet day for us. We take life and all its blessings and challenges for granted. It is business as usual. We reject the invitation. We ignore the messengers who come to us, in every shape, way and form to remind us that God has prepared a spiritual banquet for us. Sadly, there are some days we’d rather be famished, we rather attend a meager meal of negative behavior than get ready for the banquet God has prepared. We choose to be killjoys. Sadly, sometimes we prefer to put on the rags of despair or indifference. We prefer the shirt stained by gossip. We chose the pants torn by anger.
Remember, Jesus reminds us, every day, God has prepared a sumptuous banquet for us. God wants us to put on the radiant garments of righteousness, peace, kindness, love, and hope. God wants us to spread the word to every highway and byway. This morning you can almost hear the party now. The invitation is out. And the only question is—this day will we attend? This day will we put on the heavenly garment? This day, will we open the doors and go out and gather the people, so that God’s banquet is filled. The food is ready, the venue is prepared – God is ready to receive us – so let the feast begin! Amen