What’s the most consistent image of the Reign of God in the New Testament? It’s not the golden streets or pearly gates. It isn’t harps or eternal singing. It’s feasting with the family.
The reason Jesus often started his parables saying that the Reign of God is like a feast or banquet, is because God wanted us to know the joy of togetherness. It’s about the union of soul brothers and soul sisters. It’s about fellowship with Jesus and with each other, and it’s about equal love for all.
The archangel Michael was giving a tour of heaven and hell to a new angel. In one particular room in hell, there was a large group of people around a banquet table that was laden with lots of scrumptious food. But they were starving to death because they were unable to eat it. They weren’t allowed to use their hands, and the only utensils they were given were five-foot long spoons.
On the tour of heaven, the angel saw a room that was identical to the one in hell. He saw the five-foot spoons leaning against the wall, but the people were fat and happy and having a good time. She asked St. Michael: “What’s the difference between this group and the group in hell?” “Oh,” said St. Michael, “in heaven they feed each other!”
At meal-times, a lot more is going on than eating. In ancient times, eating and drinking together was more of a celebration than it is today. A meal together was a sign of mutual trust and a pledge to be friends. In politics still today, when a head of state visits another country, there will often be a state dinner or ceremonial banquet, not because the guests need to fill their stomachs, but because they need to cement relationships.
The same is true of our ceremonial meal in church. Our concern is not to fill our stomachs, but to cement relationships, with each other and with our God. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel Lesson, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
When you think of memorable meals in your life, why do you remember them? I’ll bet it’s mainly because of the company. Perhaps you remember a date at a restaurant when you were given a ring. Or a wedding reception meal. Or a Thanksgiving dinner with special friends. Or a Christmas dinner with the family. What was most important was not the entree or dessert, but the sharing of laughter and tears and all that the years will bring. It’s the koinonia that’s important, the fellowship.
Jesus was himself so in tune with the vision of God, he tells us repeatedly that the Kingdom of God is NOT some heaven in outer space, but it’s right here and now. For centuries the Churches have misrepresented that core teaching and tried to convince us that we need to behave so we can get to the Kingdom of Heaven. And by the way, the men in charge of the Church have the only key to the door, the only sacraments, the only right way to think and act and believe. Oh, and they’d appreciate your weekly contributions, too.
The truth is that God is already in control of everything, and the Kingdom is now. We just finished having our first parish picnic, and it was festive and fun and it was clear that we are a community who likes to celebrate. This is precisely why our Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist— so we can celebrate our shared faith and our shared love, and so we can feast, again and again, on the Source of that love. In the ancient world, it was believed that if you ate the body of your enemy, you inherited his strength. When the early Christians spread out into Asia Minor from Jerusalem in those first decades after the death of Jesus, they encountered the cult of Mithras and the Zoroastrians in Persia—two religions that served bread and wine in a ritual meal, believing it was the body and blood of their God. By eating it, they became divine, like their God. Christians took that central idea and incorporated it into their own theological understanding. There are still Christians who take this idea literally, and those who take this more figuratively—but ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we believe about it, so long as we take what we receive and become ourselves the Body of Christ. That is what this meal and this feast of Corpus Christi are all about.
So we come again to the liturgical feast, the Mass, which is aa celebration of thanksgiving for the blessings and love of God. It’s a tangible way of giving thanks (which, by the way, is what the word Eucharist means) — giving thanks not only for daily bread, and for peace and prosperity and all our physical needs that God satisfies, but most of all, Communion is a thanksgiving for our spiritual blessings: — for God’s forgiveness of our mistakes; — God’s gift of our faith and our awareness of love; — God’s gift of a mission and purpose for us in life; — and God’s gift of a secure future life that we have already begun.
Most of all, Holy Communion is a feast because it celebrates the union we have with each other and all other people here on earth. It means we are all family. As we come together from our separate houses, separate careers, separate backgrounds and temperaments, we eat together to affirm that we are family, brothers and sisters of Christ, fully and equally loved.