Homily-Thanksgiving , Oct. 12, 2008

Isaiah 25:1-9 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Philippians 4:1-9 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so 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 a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

People used to speak of counting their blessings. It was a way of consciously putting the focus on the positive and not allowing negativity to dominate their outlook. As the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart suggested, being thankful is a basic and essential aspect of the spiritual life. It’s vital to our well-being, to our relationships with others, and our relationship with God, that we develop what has been called “the attitude of gratitude.”

Thanksgiving Sunday for me conjures a lot of nostalgia, and I am thankful for many good memories. I remember feeling awe at the endless fields of wheat, amazement at the flocks of ducks and geese forming to fly south, and a sense of profound thanksgiving as my friends and I enjoyed the bounty of carrots and peas and crab apples in the various gardens in our neighbourhood. But more than that, I remember the incredible feasts of food and fellowship around the family table.

Thanksgiving is a summons to the table. Most, if not all of us, will have at least one special dinner this weekend. When I was a kid, there was a place called Bob’s restaurant, where we went occasionally as a family, and they had an enormous buffet. To a kid, the buffet seemed endless – it was a taste of paradise to me. When you look at the life of Jesus, it is amazing how often he is associated with meals and how often he used images of meals and weddings to speak about the kingdom.

At Thanksgiving we gather to feast at the table. It’s interesting to me that there is never any difficulty in getting people to show up for a good meal, be it a special family gathering, a date at a special restaurant, or a pot luck at the church. There are few things in life that compare to the pleasure of a really good meal in really good company. I shared such an experience just last week with some people from our parish, and again last night with some old friends. People want to be there – they enjoy being there. That in part is what I hope to accomplish with the “Getting to Know You” gatherings over the next few months, and in connecting one on one — life is always better somehow when food and drink are involved.

What makes a great meal is not only the food, but also the sense of reunion, the company, the personal connecting, the fellowship and belonging and being known, the sharing of stories, the reflecting and hearing new things, and the laughter. It is also the gratitude for the love, care, expertise, hospitality and generosity which created the gathering in the first place. People have such a good time that they lose track of time altogether, and enjoy themselves so much they don’t want to go home.

That is the sort of experience in which the Eucharist is rooted, yet I wonder if people tend to see our gathering for worship in the same light. There is a wonderful song by John Michael Talbot which says, in part: “Come to the feast of heaven and earth; come to the table of plenty!” He’s singing about the Eucharist – as a feast!

At the Induction a few weeks ago, an important part of the covenant we made together revolves around the place of the Eucharist – and to that end, the service said, “Grant, we look to you as one who presides at the Eucharist and shares with us and the whole church in the breaking of the bread as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet . . .” My answer to that is an emphatic YES! The Eucharist is for Christians the supreme act of Thanksgiving, for the redemptive presence of God in Christ. The Eucharist is central to my spirituality – and I have extended the sense of sacrament from the Eucharist out into every aspect of my life. The Eucharist has taught me how to see the extraordinary present in the ordinary – it has taught me to see life in a new way.

It has become very ritualized over the centuries, but originally the Eucharist was a meal. In the Gospels, which are quoted in our Eucharistic prayers, it always says “after supper, he took the cup . . . “ As with a lot of scripture, you need to read between the lines a bit, because sometimes all the “in-between” aspects have been glossed over, sanitized or even removed. I find myself wondering: what happened to the rest of the meal! I try to imagine the Eucharist as including those elements we associate with good meals — the joy in being together with family and friends, the sharing of stories, relaxing and being free to be yourself, the laughter – because I think all of that is meant to be there – and sometimes IS there, but it has become very formalized, solemn and abstract.

To me, the Eucharist connects not only with the Last Supper, which was a meal, but also with those occasions when Jesus fed the multitudes, and sat down to eat with his friends and followers and even his foes. The great wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus turned the water into gallons of wine, might come to mind. The NT says pretty clearly what a lively person Jesus was – so much so that apparently he was accused of being a drunk. The apostles too were accused of being drunk because they were so euphoric when they experienced the Spirit. St. Paul had to instruct the early church to curb their enthusiasm because some of their religious gatherings were too much like a party. Imagine! He suggested a certain amount of decorum – order and decency – would be helpful. Anglicans have certainly excelled in the order and decency department – we do “stately and formal” very well, and there’s a place for that, and it’s not helpful to be too literal in copying ancient Church practices, but on the amount of wine we give people, you could never picture excess of any kind!

The Gospel challenges us to seek to create that unique atmosphere of conviviality, conviction and celebration that Jesus created. I think we as Anglicans are obliged to ask whether our worship helps to connect people with the fullness of life we see in Christ. The Gospel challenges us to think about how are inviting, welcoming and feeding our guests, and whether there is a place for all at the “table.” I would love to see the day when the church becomes a place where, in the light and love of Christ, people can be most truly themselves. I would love to see the day when people feel excited and proud enough about being here to invite their friends to share in our celebrations.

Thanksgiving is a reminder us that we are called home. Today’s Gospel teaches us that God has issued a call and in the Eucharist we are symbolizing the fact that we are taking into ourselves the very life of God. Today’s Gospel proclaims the kingdom is like a wedding feast, which in those times tended to draw the entire community together. A wedding as an image for the kingdom is a way of saying that life is good – that God’s purposes are fulfilled in our coming together in celebration with the person of God’s son at the centre.

The wedding represents God’s invitation to life. As St Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is human beings fully alive.” How gauche it would be to refuse the invitation to be a part of God’s kingdom – how appalling not to appreciate that or honour it – to want to cheapen or degrade it somehow – it would be like saying we prefer to be dead rather than alive. The graceless guest represents an attitude that is hostile, mocking, cynical – negative. He is not condemned for the way he is dressed — the garments in Jesus’ story are symbolic of the refusal to enter and embrace God’s invitation to life. The “guest” is that cold, dark and negative disposition which denies or obstructs life, and expresses that in terms of ridicule and disrespect and refusal to participate — it is an image which New Testament folk would have associated with Satan, who in Revelation is described as being bound and cast into outer darkness.

“Come to the feast of heaven and earth — come to the table of plenty!” We are invited into the light and warmth of God’s presence, where Christ as bridegroom symbolizes our fulfilment – and in the feast of Communion we are taking into ourselves the LIFE of God. The Church is meant to be a sign of that life — a place where that life can be found and received and celebrated with joy and thanksgiving – in everything from our worship to our pot lucks to our smaller, more personal gatherings.

This weekend as we celebrate Thanksgiving let us be deeply thankful for a vision of life and a faith which is expressed in festivity and joy and communion. “May we know the presence of Jesus in the breaking of the bread” and in the Eucharist and all our gatherings at St John’s, come to share in the vivid, joyful and transforming life which is ours in Christ.