Those words I remember learning as a young child, for every year throughout Britain, on this night millions of people celebrate what is known as Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night. Millions of bonfires are lit and millions of fireworks are ignited.
What they are remembering is the gunpowder plot in the year 1605, when certain English Catholics plotted to kill King James I by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605. There were about a dozen plotters, but most famous was Guy Fawkes because he was given charge of the gunpowder. But an anonymous letter was sent to the authorities, tipping them off. And during a search of the cellars the night before, they discovered Guy Fawkes guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder – enough to reduce the Houses of Parliament to rubble, and they arrested him and later he was hanged.
Although most people celebrating Guy Fawkes tonight have forgotten what it commemorates – it’s just a reason for a party and some fun – the ritual commemoration of religious conflict can be found all over the world, and in many places it perpetuates ancient conflicts and tribal hatreds. Just across the North Sea in Northern Ireland, another 17th century event, the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, is commemorated every year in Ireland on July 11th, with such rituals as the Orangemen marches, which continue to inflame tensions between Catholics and Protestants.
Such rituals reinforce old hatreds and divisions, keep alive old questions of who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong, who has exclusive claims on God’s favor.
In today’s Gospel from Luke, Chapter 14, Jesus was eating a meal in the house of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath, and it says, “They were watching him closely.” He was surrounded by lawyers and Pharisees. If we were there we’d probably have kept our mouths shut, for they were clear about who was in and who was out, whom God favored and whom God condemned. They were definitely in God’s good books. No doubt about it. They could have given you a great list of who was not in God’s favor!
But Jesus doesn’t keep his mouth shut: with enormous courage he tells this provocative parable about the owner of the house who gives a Great Banquet. When those who were first invited all give their excuses and do not come to the dinner, the owner asks his slave to go out and invite everyone to come. “Go out! Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame – go into the roads and the lanes – bring them all in so my house will be full!”
The Pharisees would have been enraged. The parable is describing a God who is not concerned about who is in and who is out. This God is a God of overwhelming, unimaginable generosity and love. Love for every single one of his children – let them all come in! A love which overrides the Pharisees’ and lawyers’ carefully calculated categories – the saved and unsaved, the chosen ones, the rejected.
As I was reading and praying with this passage, I was drawn in particular to those slaves – the ones whom the owner sent out to call all those people to the banquet. I began to reflect on all those who, in my own life, I believe God sent to call me to come to God’s table. Those men and women of different stages of my life who have helped me come to know about God’s incredible generosity and love for me.
I have just returned home from six weeks away in England and France. I had a wonderful time visiting members of my family and also friends who I haven’t seen for many years, but also in particular, individuals who have been important in my life of faith. I went to Wells to see the man who was my rector when I was first ordained, who taught me so much about being a priest. I went to stay with my first spiritual director, who helped broaden my vision, to see the face of Christ in places where I would not have expected to find him. I stayed with a friend who is not Christian, not religious at all, but who knows me so well and has mysteriously been a channel for God’s wisdom in my life. When I was hesitating fourteen years ago about coming to the USA and joining this community he simply said, “Go on – it will be an adventure!”
All of them in their different ways, have invited me to the feast, have encouraged me, or challenged me, to really taste life, to drink in life in thirsty gasps, and to understand and experience God’s love in profound ways. And I am incredibly thankful for them.
You may not be able right now to go on a trip like mine to see old friends and mentors. But, thinking of the Parable in today’s Gospel, you might find it helpful to spend time in prayer and reflect on all those individuals who in your own life have been like messengers sent by God to invite you to God’s banquet.
Who are those in your life who have revealed through their words or their actions just how much God loves you? Perhaps when you felt, “I am not worthy to be here,” they drew you close to the fire of God’s love, and pointed the way to the table prepared for you – an honored guest.
Tonight, God’s banqueting table will once more be prepared. Bread and wine will be set before us, and each of us will be invited to come – come and feast at the Supper of the Lamb.
When you come to received Christ’s body and blood, name in your heart all those who called you to the feast – and give thanks. Above all, give thanks to the one who in Jesus Christ came to call us home – where we shall feast at the heavenly banquet for all of eternity.
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