Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Proper 23 A, Sunday, October 12, 2014
|Scene from the movie "Babette's Feast"|
As some will recall, Holy Cross brothers, at the invitation of the Dean, Fred Borsch, once occupied a suite of rooms in Parsons Hall on the campus of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in the 1970s and 80s where we participated in the life of the student body, offering spiritual mentoring, monastic witness, and occasional special events such as Sunday waffle suppers for Parsons residents during intersemesters. CDSP, as itʼs called, is a member of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.
When students would remark the sparse attendance at the 10 a.m. Eucharist in All Saintsʼ Chapel, the generallyexpressed opinion was that the dayʼs real liturgy was actually lunch, when people felt drawn together in a different sort of way, the meal itself a vehicle for the satisfaction of hungers which had little to do with physical hunger, a reminder of the motto once displayed on the refectorian readerʼs desk of this monastery - Cibor Melior Cibor (Food Better Than Food).
In those days closer to Vatican II when ecumenism was relatively alive and well, students at the Jesuit School of Theology a couple of blocks away enjoyed teaming up with those at the Church Divinity School to plan services which integrated the eucharistic rite into a sit-down meal in such a way that the entire event was a seamless whole.
Those who took these models into their field work parishes were astonished at the enthusiasm with which they were greeted . . . as if ancient hungers were satisfied in ways the traditional rites could not provide. Underlying this cooperative Jesuit and Episcopalian enterprise was the principle taught at the Jesuit School of Theology that the eucharist was crippled by wrenching the bread and wine out of the context of a meal.
A meal: Why were meals and their table fellowship so central to Jesusʼ ministry? Because sharing a meal has always been one of the most effective means of achieving and celebrating reconciliation, and of bonding in general, and one of the great symbols for well-being. Hence the disturbance which this practice exerted on Jesusʼ opponents who were always asking the disciples, Why does your teacher eat and drink with all that despicable riff raff? Well, because those on the straight and narrow donʼt need a physician, but those who are sick, and their healing occurs in the reconciliation and bonding achieved in sharing a meal by which they are reconciled and bonded to God, incorporated into Godʼs very self.
It goes back to the vision of Isaiah that on the holy mountain God will make a feast of rich food for all peoples, rich meats served with oil, marrow extracted from bones, and of course choice wine - a menu calculated to alarm the health-conscious today but in those days standard fare for a banquet. Furthermore, Isaiah proclaims that this banquet accomplishes the defeat of death, the wiping away of tears, the eradication of the disgrace of Godʼs people, in short - the salvation which we await.
God lays on a rich banquet, above all possibilities, as the instrument par excellence for the defeat of death, the wiping away of tears, the reconciliation of enemies, and the bestowal of great well-being.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that the host of the wedding banquet in Matthew would be, to say the least, ticked off by the disdain of those invited. Folks, this is not a McDonaldʼs Happy Meal.
Do you remember the popularity of the film “Babetteʼs Feast” when it was current in theaters some years ago? This beautifully-made Danish film was so appealing then, and remains so, because it depicts the divine chemistry by which a banquet accomplishes everything described about the Supper of the Lamb, why the wretched of the earth were so drawn to Jesusʼ table fellowship.
At a certain point in the feast, General Loewenhieln, a distinguished guest, is so transformed by the magic of the occasion that he must rise to make this rhapsodic utterance, a kind of impromptu eucharistic prayer:
Mercy and truth, my friends, have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Humanity, my friends, is frail and foolish. We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and shortsightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite. For this reason we tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it, again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong. But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, sisters and brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! that which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us. Aye, that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly. For mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another.Mindful that a eucharistic prayer is a kind of extended toast to God, one can see that the unconditional grace of Jesus embodied in Babetteʼs Feast, as in any such intentional meal, inevitably expresses itself in a kind of eucharistic prayer such as that offered by the General.
Letʼs imagine ourselves at such a supper on a given Saturday night. Of what happened in the evening nothing definite can be stated. None of us later on will have any clear remembrance of it. We only know that the room had been filled with heavenly light, as if a number of small halos had blended into one glorious radiance. Taciturn old people received the gift of tongues; ears that for years had been almost deaf were opened to it. Time itself had merged into eternity.
Long after midnight the windows of the house shone like gold, and golden song flowed out into the night air. It never occurred to any of us that we might have been exalted by our own merit. We realized that infinite grace had been allotted to us and we did not even wonder at the fact, for it had been but the fulfillment of an ever-present hope. The vain illusions of this earth had dissolved before our eyes like smoke, and we had seen the universe as it really is. We had been given one hour of the millennium.