St. Matthew 22:1-14 (The Wedding Feast)
Today is the threshold of the new liturgical year, a time when we take stock of ourselves and the great story we are a part of. Today I want to retell this story. You are familiar with the events, but perhaps not with how they fit together or how they culminate with the revelation offered in today’s Gospel. It is a huge story, running from the very beginning until now – and just a bit into the future. Obviously there isn’t time to go over all the nuances of this story – that would literally take forever; but there is time to speak of the general contours. Mel Brooks did it in two hours – I propose to do it in much less. And while the story I tell will not be funny like his (nor will it allow our subdeacon to test out of this semester’s class on the Old Testament), understanding it can be a passage through which we can understand and rejoice in this world and our place in it.
Act I: In the Beginning
God brought order to things. Even the waters – the ancient sign of chaos – were divided and contained. Creation was established as a very special sort of place. A place of wonder and the deepest magic. And the greatest wonder was that he made a creature from the dust of that place and enlivened it with his own breath. He gave that creature special power, endowed Him with His own image and likeness, then commissioned that creature to use its powers for the benefit of others. It was the steward of creation. Its power was such that everything in creation responded to its intentions. The was the design of the God, that everything be interconnected so that every thought and action of His steward would be a blessing. That everything would grow in perfection, unity, and love as His steward grew in perfection, unity, and love under God’s own example and instruction.
But this new creature, this steward with the power to affect everything in the world around it, ignored its calling and used its power for something else. It still had this power, the world still responded to its thoughts and actions, but instead of bringing blessings, it brought curses. Instead of fruits, the world offered up thorns and thistles. Instead of a joyful abundance of life, it brought pain and death. The steward became perverted and warped, and it warped and perverted the world. It groaned in sin.
Act II: The Flood
This steward was mankind. One might expect that mankind would learn its lesson. That it would grow tired of thistles and pain and death and disorder and separation, that it would return to its original commission and the world to its original purpose, but it did not. It continued to use its powers to curse creation; it even turned its magic against itself. Mankind became a living blight on the world. When it seemed that all was lost, when perversion had twisted almost everything and everyone, God could allow it no more. He withdrew His powerful protection that separated the waters and kept the destructive might of chaos at bay. The world was flooded. The last remnant of good was saved – life was given a new chance. Mankind rejoiced at this and offered up its thanks to the Lord. God commissioned mankind once again to tend to creation and promised never again to allow the waters of chaos in. The world once again felt the blessings of love and unity.
Act III: The Tower of Babel and the Instruction of lsrael
But this state did not last. Mankind soon drifted away from its purpose once again. It joined together, uniting its great power to work against the order and love that created and sustains the world. God saw that if this continued, there would be no end to the evil mankind would do. He divided them into nations, assigning divine guardians to watch over and instruct each of them and He Himself took up the instruction of one of them, the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He established a new covenant with them through Moses, and gave them the Law. He used the Law to teach them how to use their powers for good, to teach them the proper order of things and how they can be maintained, and to forbid those things that would sow discord and chaos. He demanded that they keep themselves pure and holy as He is holy so that mankind would become the blessing to creation that it was created to be. When they went astray, he sent prophets to guide them back.
Act IV: The New Adam
But even with the Law and the Prophets, this nation – the Israelites – could not stay true. The nations around them had given themselves over to demons and many of the Jews had joined them. As in the days of before the flood, it seemed as though all creation would be destroyed by the wickedness of mankind. But among them there were some that still stayed true, most notably the Virgin Mary. And through her, the most amazing thing happened: God’s commission to mankind was finally realized in full. Adam’s power was perfected and completely turned to its proper purpose. How was this done? Through the Incarnation of the God-man Jesus Christ. He is called the “New Mankind”, the “New Adam”, because all the things mankind was called to be and become were brought about in His person. Creation responded to Him and it was a blessing. Remember how, when He went into the river Jordan at His baptism, all the filth and evil that had accumulated in its waters from generation after generation of curses was turned back by his presence – the Jordan turned back! Sickness fled at His touch. Leprosy was healed. The blind could see. The lame could walk. Creation finally had the steward she was made for, and it responded in joy! But evil did not rejoice – it retaliated. It could not tempt The New Adam from His purpose, so it conspired against Him. The fallen powers of the world hated Him for His goodness. They condemned Him to death and crucified Him on the Cross. But they underestimated His power – death itself fled from His power and from His love. No curse, no disease, not even death itself, can abide to be in the same place as the New Adam.
Act V: Unity in Christ
But the story does not end there. There is a New Covenant and there is a new power. Jesus Christ is the New Adam, the new mankind, the One who can live up to the high calling of steward to creation. His presence, His thoughts, intentions, and actions, bless the world and transform it. They bring about its healing, unity, love, and perfection. But the most amazing thing about this act of history is that we are called to join Him! Through Him, we, as created beings, can be purged of all filth. Through Him, we can become true stewards. We can become the New Adam. We can become a blessing to the world. The Church is the Body of Christ. Those who are baptized (in the water He transformed) have “put on Christ”. Those who believe in Him have Him in them and they in Him. Through Him the unity of mankind is restored and it is finally ready and able to go about the work of its original calling. Matter is transformed by the intentions and actions of the Church: water is sanctified, oil heals, a prayerful touch brings the remission of sins, another brings the charisma of ordination, another unites man and woman into one flesh, through the actions and intentions of the Church even bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ! The world is transformed around the New Adam, and all of us are part of that. This is the most heroic epic ever written – and we are offered the part of heroes!
Today Christ refers to this calling as a wedding feast. He desires that His people join Him in His joy. But do you remember how they responded? They had other things to do! They mocked and turned down His offer. They even killed His messengers. But others did come in. We have joined them. We have put on our wedding garments and bask in the glory of Our Lord.
But the story does not end there. We, here at Holy Resurrection in the heart of Appalachia, have the fullness of the Church. We are the New Adam. The world is groaning in sin – the people suffer. We must go out and be the source of healing, joy, and unity that we are meant to be. It is time for us to live up to our commission. Through Christ, this is possible.