18th Sunday after Trinity

Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God,
increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind
and reaching out to that which is before,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

Isaiah 25.1-9

     O LORD, you are my God;
         I will exalt you and praise your name,
     for in perfect faithfulness
         you have done marvellous things,
         things planned long ago.
     You have made the city a heap of rubble,
         the fortified town a ruin,
     the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
         it will never be rebuilt.
     Therefore strong peoples will honour you;
         cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
     You have been a refuge for the poor,
         a refuge for the needy in his distress,
     a shelter from the storm
         and a shade from the heat.
     For the breath of the ruthless
         is like a storm driving against a wall
         and like the heat of the desert.
     You silence the uproar of foreigners;
         as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
         so the song of the ruthless is stilled.
     On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
         a feast of rich food for all peoples,
     a banquet of aged wine –
         the best of meats and the finest of wines.
     On this mountain he will destroy
         the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
     the sheet that covers all nations;
         he will swallow up death for ever.
     The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
         from all faces;
     he will remove the disgrace of his people
         from all the earth.
              The LORD has spoken.

In that day they will say,

     “Surely this is our God;
         we trusted in him, and he saved us.
     This is the LORD, we trusted in him;
         let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

 

Philippians 4.1-9

My brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

Matthew 22.1-14

Jesus spoke in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, ill-treated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

Reflection by the Revd Sandie

Picture the setting. A king is having a wedding celebration for his son and anyone who has had the slightest connection with what goes on behind the scene at a wedding will immediately know the potential trouble ahead. Who should be invited – and who should be passed over. When the guests arrive, where shall they be seated and what protocols should be followed?

I know of one vicar who when meeting the bride and groom before their wedding has a simple word of advice for the groom. “Remember, you are the least important member of the wedding party. Say nothing, think nothing, support your bride under all circumstances and you may just survive!

And this wedding in Matthew at least sounds plausible when the first  invitations to attend are refused. But then things turn nasty.

  The story would be in keeping with the kings of the time who had to hold on to their power with total force. Having been turned down by those originally expected to accept, the king probably reasons that such wholesale rejection of his invitations is in fact a deliberate slight, and in all probability an indication of rebellion. How to respond? His answer is with a display of power.  He orders the effective destruction of the entire city, and butchers the rebellious inhabitants.  Finally he orders his slaves to invite literally anyone and everyone they can find to the wedding. Then as if the previous mayhem were not enough, he takes one poor guest, identifies him as improperly dressed, has him bound hand and foot then tossed out for this apparently minor crime.

Matthew appears to be using Jesus’ parable to remind us that those originally chosen – the Jews- have not understood that the invitation to join the son’s party requires a response – and in the face of their inability to respond, others – presumably the Christians must seize the opportunity.

This brings us to the part of the wedding feast parable which we find hard to comprehend unless we are aware of some local knowledge – namely why the guest who failed to put on the wedding robe was thrown out. Several knowledgeable commentators have pointed out that in Jesus’ time when guests often didn’t have a large wardrobe, the wedding robes would have been ones provided by the host. In other words putting on the robe would be a natural courteous response to the hospitality offered. Some commentators have also noted the likely parallel with the imagery offered by one of the letters attributed to Paul. In Galatians. Paul entreats us that on accepting the challenge to follow Christ we clothe ourselves not with ordinary clothes but rather clothe ourselves with Christ. This curious analogy draws attention to the difference of clothing yourself temporarily for the occasion (eg a business suit for a day in the office) and clothing yourself for what some have called eternity.

In the context of the parable, all but one of the guests understand that to take advantage of this opportunity which has unexpectedly come their way, they had better do rather more than turn up. In this feast they have a part to play.

The analogy with church is clear. Simply turning up is hardly the same as clothing yourself with Christ – in other words our challenge is to cloak ourselves with the persona in which the values and attitudes of Christ become part of our own persona. Jesus in a number of places portrays God as not allowing oppressive regimes or uncomfortable injustices to remain intact. While it is probably human nature to prefer routines to chaos – when the chaos arrives as with the wedding feast there may still be new opportunities but not necessarily for the same people. Those opportunities may well be of service, of compassion, of ensuring justice- opportunities in fact that come with clothing ourselves with Christ.

In the chaos of a worldwide pandemic many have worn the robe of compassion and service but when eventually we are rid of this virus how we will continue to be as Christ to others? The parable comes also with an awkward truth. Not all those invited for the feast will accept the offered robe-not all will seize the opportunities and rise to the challenge. The invitation is always there how will we continue to respond?

 

 

Post Communion Prayer

We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast:
for here we receive you,
here the memory of your passion is renewed,
here our minds are filled with grace,
and here a pledge of future glory is given,
when we shall feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

Post Communion (18th after Trinity) ©  1973 ICEL: Roman Missal (English Translation)
Isaiah 25.1-9 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Matthew 22.1-14 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Philippians 4.1-9 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Collect (18th after Trinity) ©  The Archbishops' Council 2000