HOMILY – 28th SUNDAY [A] 2017
When you’ve had a holiday, as I’ve just had, you usually return grateful for the time away, grateful to be back safely, and grateful to return to the life and friends that supported your time away. This, for me, is highlighted in today’s First Reading – the banquet of rich food and fine wines, signalling that all is well and couldn’t be better.
There’s another level to returning home that requires some thoughtful readjustment: nothing stays the same in your absence. Two of my brother priests died while I was away – Frs Des Moosman and Eric Urlich, both with whom I lived and worked – and two special parishioners, Pattie Blackmore and John Douglas.
Pattie: a most gentle and faithful person, with a wonderfully close bond with her grandchildren, one of our volunteer Guardians who cared about this cathedral as her own home. John Douglas: a thoughtful and generous person who, despite a serious sight disability, was a skilled pianist and broadcaster and a person of deep faith and trust. I brought Communion to John and anointed him two days before I left,though aware of the extent of his illness. He commented on the gift of faith – I don’t know where I’d be without it.
I returned to learn another parishioner, Frank Fox, had just died. Frank’s funeral was Friday. At least two further parishioners have required major surgery over recent weeks, and on the wider community front, our Archdiocese has had a Synod and our nation a General Election. Homecoming is a graphic reminder that nothing stays the same.
Using the image of the banquet – food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines – the prophet Isaiah is presenting the ultimate in comfort to a people at the mercy of drought and crop failures, and often separated by tribal warfare and territorial disputes. He tells them it is the Lord God who prepares and provides the banquet, and until they recognise this they will not find peace or fulfilment.
At the heart of any banquet is community. You cannot have a banquet on your own. Rejoicing and celebrating makes no sense if there’s no one with you! The changes we experience in life are almost always linked to relationships. Family, friendship, work, and our inner relationships – the way we experience God and things of the spirit. We cannot live unrelated!
Jesus uses a similar banquet image to present the kingdom of God: a wedding feast, to which everyone is invited. Some will choose to decline the invitation; some will be so distracted with their own affairs that they will ignore the invitation; and some will simply take it for granted – like the person who turns up not dressed for the occasion. He receives what we might consider a harsh punishment, but Jesus is emphasising that though the invitation is open to all, and the banquet is without cost, you must choose to be part of it.
Accepting the invitation places you at the table with others! The wedding garment identifies the community. Not to wear it is to stand apart, to cut yourself off – to become unrelated! From what I’ve learned of our recent Synod, it is an empowering moment for the Church of Wellington: a definite call to place ourselves at the service of one another and the wider community, especially those at the outer edges. To be part of this is to be part of the banquet, where there is no mourning or weeping but only harmony and joy.
Homecoming is like that, too. Coming back into the fold, and feeling you belong there, carries a sense of harmony and joy – even if some things have changed while you were away.