• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

The Sumptuous Feast



There’s a children’s story called, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” in which a host of men sail out into the sea to discover adventure. Far out and away from Narnia, they land on an enchanted island, the Island of the Stars, it’s called. Once they get to the heart of the island they stumble upon a giant table covered in foods of every kind.

“From end to end” of the table was laid “a rich crimson cloth... At either side of it were many chairs of stone richly carved and with silken cushions upon the seats. But on the table itself there was set out such a banquet as had never been seen…” the story tells us. “There were turkeys and geese and peacocks, there were boars' heads and sides of venison, there were pies shaped like ships under full sail or like dragons and elephants, there were ice puddings and bright lobsters and gleaming salmon, there were nuts and grapes, pineapples and peaches, pomegranates and melons and tomatoes. There were flagons of gold and silver and curiously wrought glass; and the smell of the fruit and the wine blew towards them like a promise of all happiness.”

Throughout all of his stories, C. S. Lewis loved to write about banquets, and he always did so with such wonder and imagination. The same love of the feast and the table is shared by all of the great poets and artists in history, and some of the most beautiful paintings show us this scene of a table laden in fruits and meats.

Today, in our Gospel reading, we also learn about a sumptuous feast.

Jesus Christ is talking to his disciples and trying to impress on their minds an image of our Father in heaven and His whole purpose for creation.

“A man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

This man, in the parable, is clearly God in heaven. The time of the banquet is at hand. You can imagine a table much like that in the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” laden in cured hams, sauces, deserts, and wines crafted by heavenly hands. The windows are open and the fragrance of the feast pours out into the streets.

And what is God’s will? That his friends and guests will come and feast with Him?

Anyone who imagines God as an angry God, or as someone indifferent or lofty, has to stop here and realize how wrong he is. Who is our God? He is the host of the banquet. He is the joyful Lord who works day and night to prepare a feast, just so that he can gather with His friends to rejoice together and to share the beauty and deliciousness of creation.

So the parable goes on to tell us that God sent His servant to announce the news that the feast was ready. And the servant goes to every man and woman who had gotten an invitation card, and with joy and excitement invites them to come. But we all know how they respond.

Each makes his own excuses. “The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out…excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’”

The parables of Jesus Christ have a way of cutting to the heart, if you let them sink in. The message is always so clear. It’s easy to look at the characters in a story and shout, “Don’t you know what you’re saying.” But then, when you look to see how that story might be talking about you, it’s much harder.

Isn’t this the truth.

God comes to us again and again. The feast is real, we know it, we can smell it in the air, and sometimes it feels that we even touch it. But we become so occupied in our own affairs that when God comes, we shrug Him off, “Oh, that’s very nice, good Lord. Come back tomorrow maybe.”

How often in my own life, when it’s time to pray, do I say to myself, “Too busy now, too sleepy, maybe tomorrow.” When we see someone in need, and God pricks our conscience, we sometimes think, “The poor soul probably needs help, but I’ve got so many important things to do.” When our heart tells us to go to confession, the mind has a way of quickly responding, “I probably would be better off confessing, but, my favorite TV series is on; I need to finish some more work; I’ve just purchased a field.” When we need to forgive someone for hurting us, how long can we put it off?

The table is laden with fruits. The meat has been cooking and simmering. The fumes of wine and pies are mesmerizing. God is on his knees offering us everything, joy for eternity with Him, knocking and knocking, “The time of the feast is at hand.” But everything here in this world seems so important, so urgent, and we say so often, “I believe in the feast. I think it’s great. But come back tomorrow…”

What’s ironic about this parable is the nature of the excuses that people make. Each of the men invited had very real concerns. One of them had just purchased land, and another an ox. In those times, these were huge investments. An equivalent excuse, today, might be if a businessman said, “I just bought a corporation,” or a farmer, “I just bought a tractor.” And the last excuse is the most ironic. “I just got married,” the man says, “so I can’t come to the banquet.” All of these excuses concern major life events and important affairs.

This parable has an incredible message for each of us. Our excuses to avoid God, when He knocks at our hearts, are often very good excuses. But they are still excuses.

Where’s the problem? “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Our jobs, our concerns, our needs, are all very important. But anytime anything distracts us from God, whenever something becomes more urgent or more pressing than God and His heavenly banquet, then we are in danger of loosing everything.

This isn’t really a heavy passage. It’s serious. Jesus Christ is trying to wake us up. And this is hard.

But we can’t loose sight of the ultimate message of the parable. There is a feast, a grand, delicious, beautiful feast. The time of the feast is at hand, and the doors are open. The story reminds us to not loose sight of the feast. Our occupations in our daily lives are important, but whenever they become distractions, or gods in themselves, then they’re nothing, vanity, a chasing after the wind. The feast is real. These things are just shadows. God’s banquet is solid and eternal, everything else is just temporary.

Come and feast, the table is laden, the fruits are ripe, and God knocks at the door of your heart.

Isn’t it profound that we’re given this parable today, while celebrating Corpus Christi.

This is the one feast in the year dedicated entirely to the awesome truth that God is the God of the banquet table, and we have already begun to eat from that table.

And of the entire year, this is the one time when the Church tells us to take the body of Christ and process with it through the streets, showing the world the banquet that God has prepared. On Corpus Christi, in many traditional countries, the entire towns and cities set out to process with the priests and ministers. A friend of mine was in Austria on this feast, and described the joy around the ceremony. The streets were covered in a blanket of flowers, a path suitable only for our God. The firemen and police officers wore their finest uniforms, the men wore pressed suits and women flowing dresses. The young girls lead ahead of the procession, tossing flowers, dressed in their whitest dresses. They too wanted to bring their best, their purity, to God in this procession. And around the Priest and sacred ministers, men hold up a golden canopy (as we will today). For hundreds of years, going back all the way to the ancient Egyptians, a canopy was held over the throne of a king as He processed through his kingdom. Now, our men hold this canopy over the King of Kings, who is with us truly, in the Consecrated Host, the Body of Christ.

“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst…”

What do we eat and drink every Sunday and every mass, and what do we carry today in our golden monstrance as we process around the Church?

This is the heavenly banquet that God has prepared. This is the presence of Christ, the taste of God, God made flesh and given to us.

When we process today after mass, use this as an opportunity to cast your eyes on God, and to impress in your hearts what it is that we eat and drink every Sunday. In this way, when He comes to us and tells us, “the feast is at hand,” may each and every one of us be ready to abandon everything to follow Him.

Our heavenly God, who art the God of the banquet, open our hearts and inspire us to hunger for thy heavenly table. Amen.

Today, we celebrate Corpus Christi. This is the one feast in the year dedicated entirely to the awesome truth that God is the God of the banquet table, and we have already begun to eat from that table. In our Gospel Pass


Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

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