• Epistle reading
  • Gospel reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! When we gather together as the Body of Christ, especially to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we come into the House of God to worship, and to be fed. In the prayer the priest prays immediately before reading the Holy Gospel, it says “illumine our hearts with the understanding of Thy Holy Gospel.” We come here this morning to see God–and we see Him very plainly in at least two places in the Liturgy. When His Holy Word is proclaimed in the reading of the Gospel, and when we are nourished by His very Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. The Liturgy is in two parts–the first part ends with the reading of the Gospel, and the second part ends with the reception of Holy Communion. We take the Word into our minds and hearts to shape and change our lives. And we take the Word into our mouths to deify and enlighted our lives. So as we prepare to receive the very life of God in Holy Communion, we hear the Gospel (not just listen, which doesn’t necessarily imply understanding), we hear the Gospel with understanding and the desire to conform our lives to Christ–and then we approach the chalice to be filled with the strength to do those things we heard in the Gospel, and that we prayed for throughout the entire Liturgy. Our Lord’s parable in this morning’s Gospel is thinly veiled. At the time of it’s telling, it serves as a warning to the chosen people of God, the Jews. Christ is constantly warning them of the consequences for abandoning their fidelity to God. In refusing to uphold their end of the covenant relationship, the Jews have in effect refused the invitation to the Master’s dinner table. So Christ warns them–others will be invited to the banquet meant for you, but you won’t be able to come. You’ll have squandered your chance. The parable not only serves as a specific warning to the Jews, but it also serves as a warning to all mankind. Christ came into the world to call sinners. All mankind is now called to sit at the table with the Master. We all have the opportunity for salvation. The banquet is the Kingdom of Heaven–all are invited, we just have to accept the invitation and sit at the table with the Master. But in another version of this parable, Christ reminds us that accepting the invitation requires something of us. One man comes to the banquet and is not properly dressed–and is thrown out of the dinner and into outer darkness. In St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, this morning’s Epistle reading, he tells us what the garment of a Christian should look like. Christ invites us to the banquet with a parable, and St. Paul reminds us what accepting that invitation will mean in his Epistle. St. Paul writes, “Put to death your members which are on the earth.” Then he lists sins that we must abandon once Christ comes into our lives. Of course, the goal is sinlessness, but St. Paul is reminding us that we must be on that path of being in the world, but not of the world. Here, he doesn’t mean that creation is bad in any way–we must put off the sin and bondage of the world in order to be made in the likeness of Christ. And his list of sins include ones we would think of as “really bad,” and some maybe “not so bad.” Fornication and passion are listed along with filthy language and anger. All sins separate us from God, so everything not of Christ must be abandoned. “You have put off the old man with his deeds,” St. Paul writes, “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” Once we choose Christ, we’re a new creation. And we must act like that new creation. The grace of Christ renews what was lost at the Fall–the sullied image becomes the perfect image again. All that was open to Adam in paradise is now available to us–and even more, because we have Christ. But the warning is very clear this morning, one week before the end of the Nativity Fast and the celebration of our Saviour’s birth. To feast at the banquet of the Master, the invitation must be accepted. And for the invitation to be accepted, we must become the sons and daughters of the Master. We become like Christ, in order to be with Christ. And the first step in this journey is putting off the old man. It’s hard to imagine sometimes that the first step in the Christian life is to stop sinning, and after that, many things by God’s grace open themselves to us. As we enter this last week of the Fast, concentrate on living the life we’re commanded by Christ to live. Putting off the old man, putting away the lusts of the flesh and the way of the world. And clothing ourselves with virtue, and prayer, and the struggle against all evil. So that when we come and worship before the manger in which our God lays, we can glorify His coming into the world for our salvation as men and women who have chosen that salvation–we can worship as children of the King. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!