Sunday, 4 February 2018

An invitation to the banquet
and to dine with Christ

‘No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins’ (Mark 2: 22) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 4 February 2018,

The Second Sunday before Lent,

Readings:
Hosea 2: 14-20; Psalm 103: 1-13, 22; II Corinthians 3: 1-6; Mark 2: 13-22.

9.30 a.m.: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Holy Communion.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Season of Christmas came to an end not at Epiphany [6 January 2018] or the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but 40 days after Christmas at the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas, the great feast that fell last Friday [2 February 2018].

Now we are in the time between Candlemas and the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday [14 February 2018]. Some of us may remember when this Sunday, the Second Sunday before Lent, was known as Sexagesima, one of those odd-sounding Latin names once used in the Book of Common Prayer for the Sundays between Candlemas and Lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima.

Today, we know this time in the calendar of the Church as Ordinary Time. But instead of archaic Latin names, the two Sundays immediately before Lent now have special themes, Creation today and the Transfiguration next Sunday [11 February 2018], to help us prepare appropriately for the 40 days of Lent.

There are two sets of reading for today, and the set of readings we have used this morning continues our readings through Saint Mark’s Gospel this liturgical year, Year B.

These readings today compare the love of God for us as his created people with the love of a good marriage, and hold a promise of a new relationship with God, a new creation.

Empty tables waiting for the wedding banquet … Hosea compares the new covenant to a new wedding (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Old Testament reading (Hosea 2: 14-20), the prophet Hosea uses marriage as a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and Israel, in which God is the loving husband and Israel the wayward wife. She has succumbed to worshipping Canaanite gods, including Baal, and has come to see these pagan gods rather than God as the source of all her basic necessities (verse 4).

The prophet warns that God will take the fertility of the land away from the people, who will be exposed like a wayward spouse for who she is.

However, this could never be God’s final decision. God is ever-forgiving and ever-loving. He will ‘allure’ her back, make new contact with her, as he did during the Exodus, he will care for her, and he will again bless her; she will become his partner once again and will no longer be a slave to the old ways, the old idols or gods.

God will make a new covenant not just with her, but with all living things, he will abolish warfare, and so protect his people. This marriage will be forever, and the signs of the dowry will be righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness (see verse 20).

Taking a similar theme, the psalmist praises God for all he has done, and he gives thanks for the healing that is a sign of God’s forgiveness and the restoration of a good relationship with God (Psalm 103: 1-13, 22). God is slow to anger and is forgiving; he is like a father who knows our frailty, who loves those who are faithful to him.

In our Epistle reading (II Corinthians 3: 1-6), the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are in a new covenant. And, of course, when we think of covenantal relationships, we think of God and God’s people, and the covenantal relationship of marriage, each love a reflection of the other love.

Waiting for dinner in Rethymnon in Crete … but Christ dines with people whose trades make them social outcasts (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In our Gospel reading (Mark 2: 13-22), Christ is in Capernaum, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Now he dines with people whose trades make them ritually unclean and social outcasts. When the religiously powerful question his actions, Christ replies that he comes to call and to invite into his Kingdom those in need of repentance, not those who think they are righteous in God’s eyes.

In his answer, Christ uses the metaphor of marriage between God and his people, which we have heard about in the reading from the Prophet Hosea. Christ is the bridegroom and his followers are the wedding guests.

The feast is in progress, so this is a time for joy, while after his death it will be a time for fasting.

He insists that the old way of being and the new way he brings are separate, even if both are to be valued. New material stretches more than old. When wine ferments, it expands. Soft new wineskins expand with the wine, but old ones do not.

And so, in a way, I find myself thinking of two other banquets where the wine must have been flowing freely.

The first of these is the Wedding at Cana, the banquet before Christ’s ministry begins and also one of the traditional themes at Epiphany time. There the wine runs out, and then the wine runs freely.

The second banquet is at the end of Christ’s ministry, the Seder or Passover meal at the Last Supper. Not only must the wine have been flowing freely at that meal, it is the meal of the New Covenant, in which bread and wine are freely given, just as Christ gives himself freely, body and blood.

So, these Sundays between Christmas and Epiphany on the one hand and Lent and Easter on the other hand, link the Christmas and the Incarnation with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

But the time in between, the in-between time, is important in bridging that gap, in making that link.

In that in-between time, there are ordinary meals that offer a promise of what the heavenly banquet is like. And constantly, as in this morning’s Gospel reading, he uses the image of the wedding banquet to convey how sacred, how loving, how caring, how beautiful., how full of promise, is the heavenly banquet.

Just as the wedding banquet is not the wedding itself, but a celebration of the wedding and the promise of the wedding, the meals in the Gospel in the in-between times are foretastes of, promises of, the great heavenly banquet.

And at those banquets, Christ dines with tax-collectors like tax-collectors like Levi, Pharisees like Simon, those who are rejected by polite society like Zacchaeus, just as he is going to dine at the Last Supper with those who are going to betray him like Judas, those who are going to deny him like Peter, just as he is going to insist on dining with those who fail to recognise him after the Resurrection, like the disciples at Emmaus.

No matter how wayward others may think we are, no matter how wayward we may think we have been, Christ calls us back to dine with him, to have a new and intimate relationship with, wants to dine with us, so that, as it says in the ‘Prayer of Humble Access,’ so that ‘that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.’

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

A wedding in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge … Christ uses the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This sermon was prepared for the Second Sunday before Lent, Sunday 4 February 2018.

Collect:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

Hosea 2: 14-20:

528, The Church’s one foundation

Psalm 103: 1-13, 22:

1, Bless the Lord, my soul
686, Bless the Lord, the God of our forebears
688, Come, bless the Lord, God of our forebears
349, Fill thou my life, O Lord my God
33, O Lord of every shining constellation
366, Praise, my soul, the king of heaven
365, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation
660, Thine for ever! God of love
47, We plough the fields and scatter
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

II Corinthians 3: 1-6:

382, Help us, O Lord to learn
306, O Spirit of the living God

Mark 2: 13-22:

218, And can it be that I should gain
608, Be still and know that I am God
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
417, He gave his life in selfless love
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
94, In the name of Jesus
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
605, Will you come and follow me

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