As the lectionary today has been orbiting the Parable(s) of the Banquet, there’s a fairly obvious question we can ask – why is the Kingdom of God described as a banquet in the first place? It’s a good biblical theme, with roots in Isaiah 25, and a banquet is a picture of fellowship and acceptance, which speaks of God’s grace. However, all that said, I wonder if we need to embrace the picture in order to give us a more powerful vision of what God’s Kingdom is. It’s been said that people find it a lot easier to picture hell than they do heaven, and that’s a shame, because surely it’s better to focus our imaginations on the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, both in the future and right here and now.
So why not take some time to picture how and why God’s image of a banquet should capture our imaginations.
Because God’s great banquet isn’t quiet, God’s great banquet isn’t serious and dull. There’ll be laughing and singing and dancing, there’ll be joy and hope and tears of gratitude. For those who’ve been hungry there’ll be food to eat, and not just rationed portions but an all-you-can-eat buffet you smell as soon as you walk through the door, cuisine from France and Italy and China and India and the best fish and chips you’ve ever eaten.
For those who are heart-broken, there’s the chance to sit with someone in the kitchen and talk it through, but when you’re ready there’ll be music you can dance to without any guilt. Those who’ve been down on their luck are still invited in, even if they’re wearing an old pair of trainers and jeans from Oxfam, and the angels on the door may even dig out a tuxedo or a Ralph Lauren evening dress for you.
And for those who are ashamed, who feel like they don’t deserve to be there, who feel like their sins and their past are too shameful for them to even step over the threshold, Jesus himself heads straight for them, he takes their coat and pours their drink because they need to know that the King of Kings who hosts this party wrote their name on the welcome list himself, because he loves them and wants them to be there, he wants them to be there so much that he went to the cross to make sure the door to this great banquet could be thrown open to all who want to come.
Eating together, sharing a meal together, is how the Bible shows acceptance and fellowship, and that’s why the central ritual in Christianity isn’t a hymn or sermon, it’s a a simple meal of bread and wine that reminds us of what Christ did for us, and of God’s great love for his people.
The realisation of that can change lives: Zacchaeus is a tax collector hated by all, but one meal with Jesus and he’s giving away a fortune just to make amends; a woman gatecrashes a party just to anoint Jesus’s feet, and he ends up telling her that she’ll be remembered forever for the beautiful thing she did. Parties with Jesus aren’t about vol au vents and a few glasses of wine, they’re an opportunity for grace, and when you end up partying with Jesus…
…Life is going to change forever.