A. The Prayer Book and Bible
1. My late friend and mentor Bishop Cahoon once described the Book of Common Prayer as “the Bible in usable form.” There are several ways this is so. There are two lectionaries: The lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer and the proper lessons for communion. The daily office lectionary takes us through an annual cycle of the whole Bible in a way that connects with the liturgical seasons. The communion lectionary assigns certain lessons to each Sunday and feast, giving each its own unique biblical emphasis.
2. The Prayer Book also matches lessons with other lessons: an Old Testament and a New Testament lesson in the daily offices and an epistle and gospel for communion, along with a starred Old Testament lesson for each Sunday. This provides opportunity for meditation on the thematic connection between the lessons. This also provides opportunity to reflect on how each Sunday’s lessons connect with those for the previous or subsequent Sundays in a season.
B. The Parable of the Wedding Feast and the Parable of the Great Supper (Trinity 2).
1. Today’s gospel, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, calls to mind a Parable from the Second Sunday after Trinity, the Parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16f.). In both lessons there is a man who makes a feast and invites people. In both lessons the invited guests refuse to come; in both the invited guests end up being disinvited, and the host invites other people to replace them.
2. However, there is a significant distinction. The Parable of the Great Supper stresses evangelism with regard to the newly invited—“Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23). The Parable of the Wedding Feast emphasizes judgment—“Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” It is thematically significant that the evangelical parable comes at the beginning of Trinity and the judgment parable comes towards the end.
3. Both parables deal with the same basic theme. The people of Israel were God’s covenant people and were the invited guests. However, when Jesus and the apostles called them to repent and believe in the Messiah, and, thus, fulfill the covenant, they refused. So, God invited other guests—non-observant Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles—to take their place.
4. The Parable of the Great Supper ends with that initial shift in the constituency of the kingdom. Membership in God’s covenant people is now open to all. The Parable of the Wedding Feast moves forward. It provides an assessment of God’s new covenant people. It lets us know that just as God’s old covenant people were judged in terms of their faithfulness to the covenant and their response to God’s call, so God’s new covenant people—you and me—will also be judged by our faithfulness and our response.
C. The Man without a Wedding Garment
1. In the parable, the king who made a marriage for his son came into the party and surveyed the guests. He found one not properly clothed and summarily cast him into “outer darkness.” In essence, he treated this unfaithful new covenant representative in the same way he treated the old covenant unfaithful.
2. We might envision the scene in the manner. We are gathered around the altar for the Eucharist and, suddenly, instead of the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus himself appears in person and looks us all over. This would put a whole new spin on what it means to be properly dressed for church! But, of course, this is simply what we believe will happen. Someday, sacrament, sign and symbol will give way to the realities they represent. If we understand this, then our whole practice of the faith will be a systematic and habitual preparation for that day.
3. So, just what is the wedding garment? Though it has been the subject of no small debate historically, the general framework of the answer seems obvious. Last week’s epistle spoke of baptism in terms of “putting off” the old man and “putting on” the new man. Baptism is associated with a change of clothes; taking off the old garment of sin and putting on the new garment of holiness and righteousness. This is reflected in Revelation 7:14, which says of the redeemed that they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”
4. Thus, the man without a wedding garment was someone who had been baptized and was an occasional—or maybe even a regular—attendee at church. But he never embraced or lived out his baptismal identity. He was not in the habit of putting off the old man through confession and putting on the new man through forgiveness, good works and virtue of charity. This man illustrates that God is just as unhappy with the unfaithful baptized as he was with the unfaithful circumcised.
D. Trinity 2, Trinity 20 and the Epistle
1. The prayer book places these two great lessons about the invitation to the feast at the two ends of Trinity season. The Parable of the Great Supper comes as the beginning, proclaiming that we are all freely invited to come. The Parable of the Wedding Feast comes towards the end, reminding us that if we come, we must come fully.
2. This highlights two aspects of being called by Christ; what Martin Thornton calls, “succor and demand.” On the one hand, “Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). On the other hand, he who “does not forsake all the he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is illustrated in the Eucharist. We attracted by the grace and succor of the Sacrament. But, as we come to Christ here, we realize that we are being offered on the altar along with Christ. Our coming to him requires the sacrifice of self, soul and body.
3. Our lessons today remind that we must take this all seriously. We are not merely “going to church,” and the purpose of being here is not merely to make ourselves feel good. Rather, the kingdom of God is already present in and among us through the Spirit. Here the Spirit speaks to us through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The Spirit calls and requires us to respond to the invitation to repent and change. It is our vocation, as baptized Christians, to habitually listen to what God says to us, day by day and week by week and allow God’s grace to change us into new people who live in a new way.
4. Our epistle exhorts us, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools by as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” In new time of the kingdom, today is the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day points us forward to the Day of the Lord. Now our sinful bodies are made clean and our souls washed through a gradual process. Then we will be changed in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52), when we see Christ in person. Therefore, let us be faithful in the life of prayer, in putting off the old and putting on the new so that we may be properly dressed when the king arrives.