St. Matthew.jpg

The Wedding Garment

Matthew 22:1-14

The Rev. Jon Roberts

12 October

2008

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The Marriage Feast by Pieter Aertsen, 1507-1575

“What then, is that holiness which is the true wedding garment,” was asked by John Wesley in a sermon he gave in the year 1872.[1]

You may recall from last week, our sermon began as well with a question, “What is the blessing of God?” Holiness and blessedness; What we have learned is that the blessings of God, are the outward expressions that signify what has been set apart; what has been made holy. Holiness is in respect to what returns to God. Those things that return to his heavenly kingdom. Often we have been quick to ask, “How does one achieve a blessed holiness?” In other words, “How do we know when we have it right with God; when are we ready for the promises of heaven?” To achieve something and to ready ourselves is language to describe the process, not the goal. It is what we call justification. The goal itself, however, is what we call sanctification. It means to be made holy. The goal is the kingdom of heaven. It is the big day, when we hear the royal Sanctus, the innumerable angels and all the saints, who forever sing this hymn,
proclaiming the glory of God. As we sit at the feet of the one who gave us birth, what is it then, that we have put on? “What then, is that holiness which is the true wedding garment?”

In our creed, we may note that we represent God’s holy catholic and apostolic church. We are therefore the bride of Christ and as you know the bride will be ready and made beautiful for that glorious day. But, as you very well know, the days leading up to that moment can be restless. The bride and everyone around her can get frustrated. Anxiety most certainly awaits her. If the blessing is seen by the beauty of her wedding garment on the outside, what is it then, that must be going on within her? Most of the time she wonders if the day will ever arrive, and what it will look like. What attributes should we hope to find? For example, she wants to know if the arrangements have been made with the families, the church and priest, the rehearsal and reception, and the honeymoon which follows. Anxiety can often guide the tone of the event, and may continue long afterwards.

Once upon a time, there was a bride who waited eagerly for her big day. True to form, after a year of courtship, she thought her big day would never arrive. When it did everything appeared on the outside to be perfect. Many things were remembered, but one in particular was the wedding garment. The gown was a traditional one, but this one was a little different. It had the most extraordinary interlacing pattern all over it. Lace work, difficult to find even for royal weddings. The train of her gown was so long, that it stretched almost completely from the doors of the narthex to where they stood before the priest. Combined with the reception and honeymoon that followed, the day went by quickly. The years, also went by quickly. There were good times and bad. There was sickness and health.

After 50 years of marriage, the husband was cleaning out the closet, when he came across a box. He opened it, and what he saw made his jaw drop. In it were two doilies that reminded him of the lace just like the type in the wedding dress, worn by his bride many years ago. But that wasn’t what made him gasp. Next to the doilies he counted $25,000 in cash. He took the box down to the kitchen where he found his wife cleaning some dishes in the sink, and asked her the question he was dying to know the answer. He said, “Dear we’ve been married for 50 years right?” “Yes”, she answered. “And we have always shared everything, right?”, he went on. “Yes”, she confirmed. “Then what is going on with this box filled with two doilies and $25,000? “Well my mother gave it to me on our wedding day. She told me to make doilies from the lace in my wedding gown, anytime I became frustrated with you.” Well the husband scratched his head and said, “Oh. That’s not too bad. You were only frustrated with me twice all this time. That’s good, but what about the $25,000”, he asked? She fidgeted and then sheepishly replied, “Well actually, every time I made one, I sold it for a buck.”

In our readings this morning, we see three intimate relationships between God and his people. In one, God is a host preparing a feast.[2] In another, he is a shepherd spreading a table.[3] Finally, in the gospel he is a King calling everyone to the marriage feast for his son.[4] In each one God goes beyond Israel, calling the Gentiles, seeking those to return to his holiness. Our faith is preceded by his grace that comes from God, and it will be followed, as well, by his grace. He leads us to holiness in the process of our faith. He leads us away from our anxiety by giving us an outward blessing in the form of a wedding garment, that signifies what should be found not only on the outside, but within. It is what is within, though, where we find the reason why we come to the marriage feast. We want to know the love of the Son. We want what is true, and honorable; what is just, and pure, and lovely and gracious, but most importantly we want to draw near to the holiness of God and receive the blessings that come with that closeness. The attributes of Jesus invite us all to share in the same qualities.

When we come to God, in our prayers and supplications we are responding to the invitation and are blessed by the innumerable moments of his forgiveness towards us. Wanting to be inside the banquet is for the reason of being with Jesus. When you come to the Eucharistic feast, with an earnest desire to love and be loved, what you are saying is, “Here I am Lord. It is I Lord.” This is what we are all waiting for; that moment of reception, where we can put on the blessed wedding garment of God’s unfailing love and holiness.

[1] The Complete Works of John Wesley, Volume 7, 1997. https://truth4freedom.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/wes_ww07.pdf, p.349
[2] Isaiah 25:6
[3] Psalm 23
[4] Matthew 22:1-16

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