15 - The Great Feast, Dec 11, 2016 (with audio)

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Mark 16:9-20

Colossians 3:4-11

Luke 14:16-24

The invitation to the Great Feast is a call or an election, but none of those who are called or elected accepts the invitation. So, the Master calls everyone else to the feast. The net result is that everyone is made one of the “elect”. Note in all of this that the “elect” do not, simply by virtue of being called or elected, gain entrance to the Great Feast. Only those who accept the call gain entrance.

Reading this Gospel parable on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, tells us that the Great Feast is Christmas. The Banquet Hall is the Cave of Bethlehem; but, the Cave anticipates the LORD’s Tomb. So, the Great Feast is also the LORD’s Pascha. The Banquet Hall is the Tomb of the LORD’s death.

Both the Cave of Bethlehem and the LORD’s Tomb were “outside the city”, perhaps another way of saying “beyond all things.” And, Jeremiah tells us that our heart is “deep beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9); i.e., “outside the city”. The Great Feast, then, is “within you”, in your heart (Dt 30:14, Lk 17:21). Or, we can say perhaps that it is “not of this world”. The “call” of God that is to everyone, that makes everyone one of the “elect”, is therefore to the mystery of God that was hidden from the ages, the mystery of “Christ in you” (Col 1:27). But those who enter that mystery, those who enter the Great Feast, are only those who accept the call and act on it. These are they who believe, who hear the LORD’s voice, and do not harden their hearts but who work every day to be faithful (cf. Heb 3:7- 4:11).

From all this, the Great Feast in this morning’s parable looks very much like the Sabbath Rest of God as it is presented in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The “other” Sabbath Rest of God, the True Sabbath (Heb 4:8-9) to which the “First” Sabbath (Gen 2:3) pointed prophetically, is the LORD’s death and burial in the Tomb. We, as the people of God who have “heard His voice,” who have heard His call to the Feast, are “called” to strive “daily”, so long as it is “Today” (Heb 3:13), to enter the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, just as we are called to enter the LORD’s Great Feast.

St Paul tells us this morning how we accept the call and how we strive not to harden our hearts in faithlessness so that we may enter the Feast to which we all have been called: “Put to death your earthly members,” he says. Consider the things St Paul lists as “earthly members”: fornication, impurity, covetousness, and the rest (Col 3:5& 8). None of these, however, would we consider as “earthly members”. Rather, they are deeds or habits of behavior. How, then, are they “earthly members”? I wonder if the “earthly members” St Paul is referring to is in fact one; viz., our will, for all of these things are acts of our will or what the acts of our will produce.

Now, look at those who did not “hear the voice of God”, who did not accept the call to the Great Feast in this morning’s Gospel parable. They declined the LORD’s call or invitation, their election, by an act of their will. And, all the admonitions of Holy Scripture – to “take heed”, not to “harden our hearts”, to “put to death” our earthly members – all are directed at our will.

I believe that in this, we come upon the central “problem” of our life in Christ in this world: our will and how we do not want to deny ourselves, to put to death these deeds and attitudes of our earthly members, to hate even our own soul (Lk 14:26) even though we believe that this is what we must do to enter into the Resurrection and receive eternal life in Christ.

The LORD says to His servant – I think this is the Father sending His Son into the world: “Go quickly and bring in the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind.” Oh my! Such a deep teaching here we haven’t time to unpack! Dear faithful, perhaps we are whole in body; perhaps by standards of the world we are even whole psychologically. But, are we whole in our will? Is not our will poor, maimed, lame, and blind?

The LORD says: If anyone comes to me, but does not hate his father, mother, wife and child, brother and sister, and even his own soul – i.e., he who thinks he can serve two masters (Lk 16:13), the good things of this world and God – is not able to be my disciple (Lk 14:26). He does not say: is not permitted or may notor is not allowed to be my disciple. He says: is not able to be my disciple. He won’t have the strength, he won’t have the strength of will to be my disciple because he won’t want to be my disciple with his whole heart! He won’t be able to accept the call of his election if he doesn’t want to come to the Great Feast with his whole heart! Because, to come to the Feast means to deny ourselves and to put to death our earthly members, i.e., our will and its idolatry, its covetous love for the good things of the world.

Who then can be saved? Who of us wants with our whole heart to deny ourselves and take up our cross to put to death our love for the good things of this world and our love for our own soul? I don’t think I’m presumptuous to say, none of us! That’s why this is such a huge “problem”. How on earth do we go about changing our will that is so dead towards God so that we begin to love the death of Christ that gives birth to Resurrection in Light, and not the life of the world that engenders death in darkness? How do we go about healing the blindness of my will, or its lameness so that we want to accept the call to the Great Feast in the Sabbath Rest of the LORD’s Heavenly Kingdom?

The LORD says to His servant, the Father says to His Son: “Go out into the broad streets and paths (v. 21 & 23 – the path that leads to destruction is broad) and into the hedges, or rather, following more closely the Greek, into the places where the soul of man is fragmented, where he is separated from himself and from God his Creator and can’t get back together, and constrain them by force or threats to enter my Feast, my Sabbath Rest!”

Dear faithful, I think we must read this more deeply. I think it is referring to the mystery of the Incarnation and the LORD’s Pascha, when He entered the place of our inner brokenness, where our will has been taken captive by idolatry, and when He took hell by force, the force of the Cross, the force of His obedience even unto death by which He destroyed the death brought about by our disobedience. The one who is being constrained, who is being compelled by force is the LORD Himself! He is being compelled by the force of His obedience to the Father, which is the concrete expression of His love for the Father and for Adam whom he created.

He did this voluntarily, by His free will. And, when He became flesh and “pitched His tent among us”, He took to Himself everything that is of the flesh, which includes above all the intellect and our will. By His voluntary death on the Cross in voluntary and loving obedience to the Father, He healed our will within Himself. And now, our will is healed of its blindness and its lameness, its paralysis and weakness, when to whatever degree we can – even if it is as small as the widow’s mite – we give all that we can of our will to following the LORD’s commandments.

“The LORD is hidden in His commandments,” says St Mark the Ascetic, “and He is found there in the measure that He is sought after” (On Spiritual Law §190, Philo I, p. 123).

Dear faithful, if our will was altogether unable to turn toward God, the admonitions of Holy Scripture would be pointless if not a cruel mocking of us. But we can, even if it is only to a very small degree. And, when we do turn toward God even a little, we turn toward Christ in His Glory and our face, our will, begins to grow light; it begins to heal, to come together out of its fragmentation, and begins, bit by bit, step by step, more and more to want Christ. We need only to believe; i.e., to turn the face of our heart toward Christ in the doing of His commandments to whatever degree we are able. That becomes the seed of our life in Christ that, as we nurture it through voluntary obedience every day, softens the heart to become a full harvest of love for Christ, so that when Christ our life appears, we shall appear with Him in Glory. Amen!