“Come to the Feast” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! It is World Communion Sunday. It’s an opportunity not only for us to share the bread and cup of communion as the gathered body of Christ, but also to remember that the body of Christ is not only this gathering of people, it is those who are joining us on livestream, other congregations and denominations across the United States, and Christian fellowships around the world — some of whom risk persecution for observing the ritual which we can practice openly.
I heard part of an interview this week with a woman named Tabitha Brown. She’s an actress and social media personality and has over four million followers on TikTok and over three million followers on Instagram. Since I’m not on TikTok or Instagram, I had not heard of her or seen any of her videos about vegan cooking or motivational speaking. I had not seen the T-shirts available on Amazon and Etsy with this quote from her: “Have a good day, but if you can’t, don’t you dare go messing up nobody else’s.” I could tell immediately in the interview that she is a person of faith, giving God the credit for her success. When the interviewer asked her about her faith, she said that she is not religious, but she is spiritual [I’ve heard that before] She doesn’t care what political party you’re part of or who you hang out with. She believes that people can choose to be kind, and she is committed to making that choice for herself and hoping that when other people experience that from her, they will be kind as well. It was how she ended that faith statement which really caught my attention. She said, You can come and eat at my table any time.
Thinking as I was, about this text from Isaiah 25, I had to consider how that statement relates to the kingdom of God. Let me first point out the obvious: Isaiah’s description of a feast which God will host on the mountain for all people is not the bread and wine of the body and blood of Christ. That observance had not yet been instituted by Jesus for his disciples at the Last Supper; Jesus has not been born in human form, he has not made the ultimate sacrifice of his life for our redemption. This passage from Isaiah is a vision of an ideal future; a future which may be beyond our reach, but not beyond our imagination. We know this vision hasn’t happened yet, because Isaiah says God will abolish death forever and there will be no more tears and no more disgrace for his people. I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked death and sorrow and shame are still part of the world we live in.
So what is Isaiah up to here, holding up a vision of something we cannot reach? I believe he’s doing what prophets — including Jesus — have done for as long as people have been speaking on God’s behalf. Isaiah is putting us squarely in between the reality of the world which experience every day, and the reality of God’s vision for the world, which we cannot reach. The space in between those things is where Christians live all the time. The point is not to make us feel discouraged that we can never get to God’s perfect vision; nor is it to numb us to the suffering we experience now by saying that maybe in the future, the next life, heaven, whatever, things will be better. It is to give us a goal to strive for. The theological term for this vision of the future and the tension it creates with the present is eschatology, and the purpose of eschatology is motivational. In its simplest and negative form, that message is “Repent, or go to hell.” That is a vision of the future, and the prospect of eternal punishment is strong negative motivation. But that isn’t the only way in which people are motivated.
This vision of a feast on the mountain, where all people are invited and God feeds everyone with rich food, and takes away the cloud of death which hangs over all of us, and wipes away our tears, and frees us from disgrace and shame — that is not only a vision of comfort, that is a vision of justice. That is a God who says, You can come and eat at my table any time. We ought to be motivated and challenged to be part of that vision which Isaiah has put before us. Here’s what’s tricky about having all people at the feast, though — it applies to everyone. We don’t choose who is invited to God’s table, God invites whomever God wants: and God wants everyone.
I know that the more people there are around a table, the more likely there is to be differences of opinion. Not necessarily about the food, but about religion, politics, parenting choices, past events, whatever it is that people argue about. This happens within families, and it happens between nations. If you have been to a meal with more than 6 people present and have not had any tension around any of those things, you either have a very homogenous family, or you’ve agreed to not talk about anything which might cause controversy. Or maybe it’s easier to not invite people who don’t agree with you.
Of course the church is more complicated than Y’all come. We have core beliefs about the sovereignty of Christ and the authority of the Bible and about sin and grace and salvation. Even white American Protestants can’t agree on how we interpret all those things, let alone black Americans, immigrants, Christians in Europe and Asia and Africa and South America, and probably Antarctica, too. Cultural differences are complicated and deeply ingrained: I don’t think we can understand all of them. What we must do is understand that we white Protestant Americans are a product of our own culture just as much as anyone else is of theirs. Other cultures are not failed attempts to be like us: they are their own unique reflection of the image of God. The invitation to ‘come and eat at my table any time’ must include some humility about who we are and who God is. ‘We’ is whomever God loves and wants to be in fellowship with — which is a mighty big WE. The table belongs to God: that means God gets to set the rules. Our participation in this feast is our way of saying that we believe in the promises of God: that someday in the future, and sometime forever, that God’s table will be a place where all people are invited, everyone is fed, and there is no more death or sorrow or shame, because Jesus Christ has defeated all of those things: we haven’t yet closed that gap between this world and the kingdom of God.
In the meantime — and we are living in the meantime — being invited to God’s table is our motivation to live as if the kingdom of God is near. By acting as God’s people and participating in and as the body of Christ we actually get a foretaste of what the kingdom will be. Today you will receive a little square of bread and a tiny cup of grape juice, not rich foods and well-aged wine. Sorry. But this meal is symbolic of what God has prepared for us: what God has promised us. The expectation of us as guests as God’s table is to come as we are, to be honest about who we are, and to give thanks for the meal that is here, and for the meal which is to come. This means we come as individual people, but we also come with people around the world who have accepted the same invitation and believe in the same promises of a future in Jesus Christ. And one more thing — I hope this is a meaningful day for you. But if it isn’t, don’t go messing it up for nobody else. This isn’t our meal; it’s God’s meal. Our invitation comes from Christ himself. There is plenty for all.