+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 22:1-4 Theme: Fear and Freedom
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
At first glance it appears to be a sort of strange juxtaposition of images. A festive Medieval banquet spread out with the all the delicacies and involving all the joyous fellowship of a celebration while over it looms the imposing image of Christ on the cross. In the parable of the wedding banquet the king sends his servants to tell those who are invited, “Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”1 These words should sound familiar. They are the words with which the pastor, the servant of Christ, customarily invites believers to partake of the banquet of Holy Communion. “Come, for all things are now ready.”
Tonight we continue our Lenten series focusing on images associated with the Passion. We will consider two questions associated with this painting. Firstly, on what basis can the king, the host of the banquet, which itself is symbolic of the heavenly feast, say “Come, for all things are now ready?” The answer is as simple as it is profound, as far-reaching as it is unique. Jesus breathed His last from the cross saying, “It is finsihed2.” The sacrifice is complete. The price is paid. Sin is atoned for. The banquet has commenced. The guests are deemed worthy. The celebrations begin. Thus the image of the Crucified looms over the festive scene.
But, remember, many of those invited to the banquet did not come. Our second question is “Why?” Well, the Scripture tells us they had other, ostensibly more important, business to attend to. I suggest to you that one of the greatest barriers to participation in the banquet- and here I mean an active and honest faith- is fear. Fear separates us from God. But, what kind of fear? Arrogance can be a fear of letting God be God. Busyness can be a fear of ‘wasting your time’ with things of the kingdom. Apathy can even be a fear of being challenged by the Holy Spirit and responsible for our witness. And you see, we can become quite comfortable with our sins and we fear having them exposed or sometimes even fear being forgiven. We are afraid of a tarnished reputation and of losing control.
There is a legend which says that there was a mouse that was very afraid of cats. So she wished she could become a cat. Her wish came true and she turned into a cat. Then she saw a dog and became afraid again and wished she were a dog. Her wish was granted and she turned into a dog. Then she saw a lion and she was terrified by his power and strength and wished she could become a lion so that she would not have to be terrified of the lion. Her wish was granted and she became a lion. Then she saw a man with a gun about to shoot her with his gun. You can imagine what happened next. She wished she could become a human and she did. But when she was sitting in her house she saw a mouse and she was scared of the mouse. The little mouse frightened her.
Now, whether or not this is an appropriate time to be preaching about mice, you can be the judge. We certainly hope our current experience doesn’t become labelled as anything legendary. Fear is often wrapped up with a sinful mistrust of God. It is often a measure of failure in protecting our own selfish interests. When we lose control or feel things are not working out according to our plans we may begin to be afraid. What fears are most crippling and incapacitating for you?
Dear friends, think of that little mouse. Do you desire to become what you fear? Sometimes people who are bullied later become bullies. Sometimes people who are oppressed in a relationship later become oppressors. Sometimes people who are wronged by others with power or influence later find themselves having these same powers at their disposal and doing the same things. But the greatest and most proper fear is the fear of death and eternal separation from God. This fear is conquered by the death and resurrection of God’s own Son. And because we are justified by grace we need not fear whether Satan is too powerful nor whether we are too unworthy. All of our lesser fears are then resolved on the basis of this freedom, of this security.
Often Jesus’ directives to stop fearing were essentially pronouncements of forgiveness and freedom. The declaration of forgiveness releases you from fear. Its power lies in the sacrificial death of Christ. The word of absolution spoken to you and pronounced upon you carries the weight and authority of Him who has won the victory. At the cross, the very image of darkness, humiliation, and defeat fear has met its end. Once the sacrifice is completed Satan’s threats of death and hell are rendered powerless.
Still, these great and wonderful truths would remain abstract and distant were they not communicated to us through God’s chosen means. Here is where the baptized learn to appreciate and be met by God where He desires. Without seeking to limit the sovereignty of God- He cannot be bound or restricted- we recognize that for our well-being He has bound Himself and thus the work of His Spirit to the word and sacraments. And these things are powerful, forgiving, healing and restoring because- and only because- they are ordained by the incarnate, crucified, risen and living Christ. The prerogative of God to act independently from all means is not really our concern. We understand His activity as located in the flesh and blood Jesus. This is a particularly Lutheran understanding. In Christ we have freedom. But not in the Jesus who is a mere dispenser of information about the sovereign Father. We have it in the Jesus who is Himself God of God, light of light, very God of very God of the same substance of the Father. He is both the host and the food of the Banquet.
How blessed we are to have already a foretaste of this feast to come. To dine at the Lord’s Table is to dine at the very gate of heaven and consume the very food offered there.
Amen. + in nomine Jesu +
Midweek Lenten Service
1 Matthew 22:4 30 March 2011
2 John 19:30 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt