Clothed in Christ

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 23/Year A ▪ October 11, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

Clothed in Christ

10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at WCEC (October 11th)

Celebrant and Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes (Sermon, "Clothed in Christ" Matthew 22:1-14). Crucifer/Candles: Mr. Pete Soto Gospel Book/Bells: Mrs. Sharon Soto Readers: Mr. Warren Groomes (First Lesson), Mrs. Judy Groomes (Epistle) Intercessor: Mr. Pete Soto Altar Guild/Flowers: Ms. Christine O’Donnell Visibility: Dr. Gerene Thompson (video) Music: Ms. Gina Spano (Keyboard); Choir: Ms. Katherine Knippel Greeters/Ushers: Ms. Christine O’Donnell Counters: Mrs. Sharon Soto, Ms. Chris O’Donnell

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, October 11, 2020

Many years ago, I was a member in a very large parish in Los Angeles. I had been a parishioner for several years before the new priest was called to our parish. After two years, our new priest had observed a pattern of low attendance during Holy Week and the liturgies of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday’s Great Vigil of Easter), and the overflowing congregation on Easter Sunday. The priest was so disturbed that he gave the congregation a bit of a dressing-down.

Essentially, my priest’s message was that if we show up to Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday,  we must also be with Jesus agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane; with him carrying his cross to Calvary; with him on the cross crying out to his Father asking why he had forsaken him; with him as he took his last breath; and with him in the tomb. He was really perplexed when he asked, “How can you attend the party if you don’t know what the celebration is for?”

In our Gospel passage in Matthew today, Jesus told his opponents, the chief priests, the elders and the Pharisees in the temple, a third parable in his series of parables in response to their initial question about his authority.  It builds on the Matthean theme that because Israel rejected God’s prophets and God’s son—the Jewish Messiah—the kingdom of heaven would no longer be exclusively theirs.  The kingdom of heaven would be given also to the Gentiles—outsiders.

Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. Much like our upcoming events of importance, an invitation to “Save the Date,” would be sent well in advance of the event to invited guests who would acknowledge receipt and accept the invitation. According to Rabbinic literature, the custom was that a courtesy reminder would be given on the day of the banquet. We enter into this parable on the day of the wedding banquet when the invited guests had blown off the king’s slaves sent to call them to the event, and they refused to attend. The king sent other slaves to invite those same guests, urging them to emphasize the extravagant preparations that had been made for sharing the celebration with them.

The refusal of the guests to attend was perceived by the king as rebellion which resulted in his swift military action. The violence seems to blindside us, the reader, because in three short verses, the king’s slaves were ignored, mistreated and killed; the king’s gracious hospitality turned to destructive anger; and he sent his troops to burn down his own city, along with the murderers (vv.5-7).  While all of this chaos and destruction was happening in the streets of the city, the king said to his slaves, “The wedding is still ready…go into the main streets and invite everyone you find” (v.9).

Here’s what we know: The actions of the invited guests would not dictate the fate of the celebration. The food and other preparations for the banquet would not be wasted; and the king’s desire to share his celebration for his son with others would be fulfilled. The banquet would move forward with unsuspecting people from the streets, rounded up by the king’s slaves. All were welcomed by the king except one improperly dressed guest. Remember, this is a parable. Of course, no one would expect any of these guests to be prepared with the proper attire for a royal event. But in this allegory the king singles out this one man who accepted the invitation, and showed up out of order, and unaware that the king’s expectations for attending had not changed from one guest list to the next.

Now, we do not know about the other last-minute guests, but judging by the king’s punitive reaction to the man, no special exceptions had been granted for the last-minute group. The scripture says that both “good and bad” people were gathered from the streets.  And, if we consider the equalizing power of clothing (even in our modern society), the otherwise outsiders, wearing the appropriate wedding robes, would visually blend into the celebration amongst royalty.

The slaves in this parable, as they were in the parable last week about the wicked tenants, represent God’s rejected prophets in Israel. And, the heavenly banquet is the coming kingdom of God set in motion with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We are the outsiders who, by virtue of our baptism, have been invited to the heavenly banquet. But we must resist living with an attitude of self-righteousness wrapped in unpreparedness. More is expected of God’s faithful people than showing up at the feast of our Lord Jesus Christ on Sunday mornings.  We are expected to study holy scripture; to spend time in prayer; and to learn about the church’s doctrine and traditions.  Neglecting to do so is like showing up to the celebration unprepared, like the man without the expected wedding robe. It is like showing up to the party on Easter Sunday, as my former priest said, without truly knowing who and what the celebration is for.

Like the wedding that the king said was still ready, God’s heavenly kingdom is still coming; we are expected to be prepared when Jesus returns at an unexpected hour. For, those who are caught off guard will not be granted special exceptions. Week by week, we, who are baptized into Christ, gather together to experience the real presence of Christ at the holy table as we consume the sacraments of his body and blood, and to share in his feast.  And as we partake of the feast, we take on the dazzling white light of Christ, the spiritual clothing, that transfigures our outward appearance, and transforms our souls.

While chaos and destruction erupt all around us, remember that the wedding is still ready and Jesus is still coming. Let us go out into the main streets to invite everyone we can find, and prepare souls who do not yet know Jesus Christ.  And, may we be clothed in Christ as we await, with hopeful anticipation, the sure and coming kingdom of God where the heavenly banquet awaits his beloved chosen.