A certain man made a great supper, and bade many. Brothers and sisters, in today’s Gospel we heard about a great feast that has been prepared. A servant is sent out to call the invited, but they make many excuses for why they cannot come to the feast. Angered, the man sends his servant out to invite the poor, and the blind, and the maimed, and all those who are destitute, and they joyfully accept the invitation to the great feast. The man who has prepared the feast is God the Father, and His servant is our Lord Jesus Christ. The table is laden, we have only to lay aside our excuses and accept the invitation.
And the good news of Christ, is that all are invited—every single person, from Adam and Eve to the very last– all are invited to the Father’s feast. This is the Gospel! In fact, today is the Sunday of the Forefathers, when the Church commemorates all the holy ancestors and prophets of Christ, who, although lived before Him, also received His invitation. This includes such righteous ones as Abraham, Moses, and King David. On this day the Church even remembers Adam and Eve themselves. Did you realize that? Adam and Eve—the first-created people, who dwelt in Paradise and knew the delights of the Lord in a way none of us ever have, but yet sinned, and plunged the entire creation into corruption and death. Even they are saved. In the hymns at Matins we praise Adam as one of the “divine fathers of ancient days.” In fact, St. Irenaeus tells us that the idea that Adam was not saved is the blasphemy of a man who had separated himself from the Church. This is how clear the Church is about salvation—God’s mercy and forgiveness extends to all—to all who make no excuses, and accept His mercy, and accept the invitation to His banquet. The Father’s table is laden.
Consider this—that Adam and Eve, who first introduced sin and death into the world, are counted among the divine luminaries of the Old Testament. This is a radical truth! But we must ask ourselves, “how were they saved?” … It is only through repentance. The Fathers tell us that the entire creation fell, except for the Garden, and after being kicked out, Adam and Eve could still see the Garden, they could still see the Paradise that they had lost. Can you imagine the profound sadness they must have felt, perhaps even despair, at times? Upon sinning they immediately died spiritually and they knew that physical death loomed in their future, and this agony of coming death is what enslaves us to sin. But they did not let this agony defeat them. They did not give in to despair. The Fathers tell us that it was because of God’s love for Adam and Eve that He allowed them to see the Garden, for in seeing what they lost they were driven ultimately not to despair, but to repentance. They wept over their lost Paradise, and they wept over their sins. They had perhaps the greatest cause for despair of all mankind, but they laid aside this excuse, returned to God, and they found His table laden.
We may not have literally lived in Paradise as did Adam and Eve, but St. Macarius the Great tells us that just as there was truly a Cherubim protecting the gate to Eden by his flaming sword, the same is true mystically in the soul of every person. Each and every one of us in our souls feels the loss of Paradise. We may never have beheld Paradise with our eyes, but nevertheless our souls are made for a life in communion with God, and we all suffer from the break in communion. We all know it, we all feel it, and in this way we all share in the experience of Adam and Eve, and this is why we join ourselves to the Church and come here in worship. If even Adam and Eve can be saved, then we are without excuse! There is infinite hope in the Gospel of Christ! His mercy is boundless. The table is laden, and you are all invited, and as we hear every year in the great Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom, Christ will turn away none who make the journey to His Father’s banquet.
There are two layers to this feast we heard about in the Gospel today. Ultimately, the feast represents the fullness of Heaven which is coming when Christ returns. But it’s not merely a coming reality that we’re idly waiting for. The feast is now. Literally—right now. The Divine Liturgy, the partaking of the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ is the Heavenly feast, the Heavenly banquet, and you are all invited. Indeed, the table is laden.
But to be properly prepared to attend and partake we must lay aside all excuses. The Gospel presents to us excuses that keep us from attending Liturgy, or receiving Communion, and that if extended will ultimately keep us from the kingdom of Heaven. If we put material possessions, or even our family before Christ we are rejecting His invitation. Blessed Theophylact tells us that the men who bought a piece of ground and a yoke of oxen represent those who love wealth. Are you tempted to skip Church to pick up an extra shift, or to go on a business trip? … The man who declines the invitation because he is married represents those who love pleasure. Are you tempted to skip Church because your friends are getting together, or you don’t want to miss the big game? Or do you come to Church unprepared to receive the Eucharist because you have overindulged the needs of the body? … Furthermore, the man’s piece of ground represents the world, and in general nature, and the man is he who cannot see beyond the natural world and its wisdom and thus rejects the mysteries of the faith. Do you keep yourself from union with Christ because of your unbelief? The wisdom of this world is foolishness to Christ. Yes, God Himself took on flesh for our salvation. This may not seem reasonable but it is powerful and it answers to our spiritual pain of loss of Paradise.
anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and so on. These sins defile us in body and soul, and if we cling to them we are unprepared to come to His Eucharistic banquet, and we ultimately reject the invitation to His Heavenly banquet for all eternity. Let us lay aside all these sins, for as St. Paul reminds us, we have put on the new man, which is accomplished by our Baptism. A similar parable in Matthew shows us a man being turned away from a wedding for coming without a wedding garment. In Baptism we put on this garment, of Christ, symbolized by our white Baptismal garments. But through the trials of our lives these garments become soiled, and so we must wash them—through repentance, just as Adam and Eve offered, and through confession. If you take care to wash your clothes every week, imagine how much your very soul requires!
This is why the Church gives us the fasting seasons, such as Advent which we are now in—because in Her wisdom she knows that we need times to refocus our attention and desires on Christ, to depend less on the world and our bodily needs and to grow in love for Christ and others. During the fasts we restrict our diets, and God calls us to pray more fervently, to read Scripture and other Orthodox texts, to give alms to the poor, to visit the sick. And don’t forget the sacrament of Confession! Of course, these are the duties of the Christian at all times, but our garments get soiled, and the Fast is our soap. The Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which we will celebrate in two weeks, is one of the Great Feasts of the Church year, and the Church is inviting us through this Advent season. Will you lay aside all excuse, all earthly cares, and accept the invitation to the feast? The table is laden …
Remember Adam and Eve? And the pain and agony they endured because they sinned? Remember that flaming sword that gives us all that pain of heart, reminding us that Paradise is our home too? Christ is coming, Christ has come, to heal that agony and that pain—of us, the poor, the blind, the maimed, and the destitute. In His Person he united God and man that we might find that communion with Him that we lost. The Cherubim is removed from the gate of Eden. He became flesh, took on human nature, to fill it with the life that belongs to Him as God. His human flesh is filled with the power of His divinity, and that life-giving Flesh, and Blood, are offered to us today, and every week, in the Holy Eucharist. Christ is offered to us in the coming feast of Nativity, and in all the feasts of the Church year, and He offers Himself fully and finally in the feast of His coming Kingdom. The table is laden. All passions, all wealth, all pleasure, all of our excuses, find their true fulfillment in the Incarnate Christ. Let us lay aside all these excuses and accept the festal invitation, for truly, the table is laden, and all are invited.