Approaching God with Reverence
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Trinity II 2019
The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.
I have chosen the Sunday to begin my series on the composition of the service of Holy Communion on a fortuitous day. In today’s Gospel reading, we hear one of the instances of the Parable of the Great Banquet (in Saint Matthew’s account -which we will revisit on November 3rd- it is the Parable of the Wedding Feast). In both, a wealthy man of some power makes a great feast to celebrate and invites everyone of high society to attend. When they all make poor excuses for not attending, he invites anyone who will come (even the poor and low class) to come and enjoy what he has prepared so it doesn’t go to waste; but he then makes the statement that all those who refused his invitation were forbidden from enjoying his hospitality (in Matthew, he even has them killed for abusing his servants). This parable is equated by all orthodox Christians to represent salvation through God’s Messiah: the host (God) has prepared a great feast (everlasting life) and invited his chosen people (the Jews), but they find excuses to reject the invitation (Christ) and he then sends his servants (the Church) to invite everyone who will come (all gentiles). Every Sunday, we receive an invitation from Christ to his feast which confers salvation, and we so often make an excuse to reject it (weather, mood, TV, etc.).
Today, however, I want to talk about those people who showed up. Those people who were invited as an alternative are you. In all likelihood, you are not of the Hebrew race, and therefore one of those people from the highways and hedges. Before you get too excited: remember that in Matthew’s rendition, there was someone who came on his own terms and gets tied up and thrown out in the dark! Have you ever been invited to a party that you didn’t belong in (banquet, state dinner, debutante ball)? The formality of it all can be daunting if you are unfamiliar with pomp and circumstance. It can be confusing and overwhelming whenever the penguin suits, nobility, or military uniforms march in and servants offer you a fish fork; but just like the intricacy of the Mass, you hopefully realize that there is importance to everything which is happening, even if you don’t understand what.
The entrance to the great feast is the initial shock of significance. Just as walking into a ballroom is stimulating to the senses, walking into a church should remind you that this place is different, important, and that something special happens here. Great cathedrals of Europe were not exclusively constructed to show off the wealth of the nobility: they were built to give the worshipper a glimpse into the glory of God (awe and emotion). We do not need to reproduce the Sistine Chapel in order to elicit the perception of holiness, but entrance into a plain white room with folding chairs does not bring the mind toward godly things. We simply need to give the best we can to God, while reminding ourselves of the beauty and glory of our creator.
Next in our undeserved feast, we hear the music. Every party has its music, and the type of music determines the mood of the attendees. Grand balls have their waltzes, raves have dance music, and Christ’s feast has hymns. The music has several purposes: to make theological statements, to lift the spirit heavenward, and to put the worshipper in the mood of the liturgical season or holiday. Notice how we don’t have the same invigorating, cheery music all year long? In Eastertide and Christmastide we sing songs of rejoicing (Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, Hail Thee Festival Day), in Advent we have slow songs of longing (O Come Emmanuel), and in Lent we sing sad songs of repentance. The Hymnal is as theologically important as the Prayer Book; and just like the Prayer Book, derivation from it is rare and needs to be well considered. You will never hear us sing Mary Did You Know? no matter how much you might like the tune, because she absolutely did know (the angel told her all about it)!
Every state dinner and potentate’s ball has its presentation: its grand march. After everyone is seated and a captive audience, the host is announced and receives the praise of his guests. Only then does the ball officially begin. We likewise welcome our host with praise and humility. The processional is not about announcing the coming of the priest and his altar servers, but the welcoming of Christ to his feast. The priest is a placeholder for Christ -he stands in persona Christi (in the personage of Christ)- meaning that his work at the altar is what connects us to that sacrifice once offered which unites us to our creator. As such, we acknowledge his approach to the altar for the purpose of our salvation just as the faithful acknowledged Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. This is one reason why we bow, but there’s another. The priest himself (the individual sitting in Christ’s place) is not important. He faces the altar during prayer with his back to the congregation not because he is more important than they are, but because he is one with the congregation and not the focus of it. He is sitting in the front front pew! When we bow when he passes by, we are participating in approaching the altar with him as an equal in the Lord’s Supper.
This is the Lord’s feast: it’s not pizza with friends and it’s not a hotdog at a concert. What we do here is more important than a prayer circle or bible study. This is a grand feast which we absolutely did not deserve to get invited to, but God invited us anyway.