Thoughts on the Gospel reading for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Growing up, I attended a tiny United Methodist church in my hometown. It was there that I developed a fascination with church liturgy and holy day observance that has continued (with the occasional lapse here and there) to this day. We hung the greens for Advent and decorated the Christmas tree with chrismon ornaments that my great-grandmother had made, we held baptisms in the river not far from our chapel, and each spring practiced a number of somber observances for Holy Week.
Every year on the morning of Good Friday, the 20 or 25 members of my church would gather together for a somber recitation of a Good Friday litany, followed by a breakfast of homemade hot cross buns, coffee, and "Russian Tea" (which I later learned was really just hot tea, orange juice, and cinnamon). For me, this simple gathering and observance of one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar has dug itself into my memory, and it has become an integral piece of my outward expression of my own faith.
Every Good Friday for the last three years, I have tried to uphold the breakfast tradition so familiar to me from my childhood. Each year I wake up at 3 a.m. to begin making the hot cross buns from scratch; I keep a silent vigil while the dough rises, and at around 7 a.m., I put on some liturgical music to listen to while I wait for people to arrive. When everyone has gathered, we participate in a litany that I have written, followed by prayer, and just being together.
However, in the last three years combined of keeping this tradition, I'm pretty sure I can count on one hand the number of people who joined me for Good Friday breakfast. This year, only one person showed up—our friend Lake. Alyssa and I were left with two enormous pans of fluffy, newly-iced hot cross buns, and no one else to eat them.
At the time, we lived in a coffee shop, and the shop was open on that day. After it was clear that no one else was going to join us, Lake, Alyssa, and I took the hot cross buns downstairs and shared them with our community of friends there. Folks that came from a variety of backgrounds—very few were religious at all, let alone Christians who observed Good Friday. Gay, straight, Pagan, art students, biology students, young folks, older folks. People who came to mean a lot to us during our time at the shop. These were people that we loved.
Perhaps not everyone grasped the gravity of the holiday—heck, we were giving out free buns! who cares about the religious tradition?—but we all certainly felt the importance of community and we all enjoyed one another's company. Though no one showed up to our planned event and we felt disappointed and under-appreciated for the briefest of moments, we were given the gift of celebrating community with food and conversation. To this day, that Good Friday has been one of the most memorable holy day observances I have ever experienced.
In our work for the Kingdom, sometimes we operate under the assumption that If you build it, they will come. And, most unfortunately, this is very often quite untrue. Sometimes people just aren't going to show, no matter how big you build it, or how well it is built. Sometimes our best ideas fall flat simply because of a lack of interest from others. Sometimes folks just don't want to get out of bed, even if for some delicious hot cross buns.
There are many possible pieces of Christ's parable of the wedding banquet to fixate upon: the seemingly over-the-top rage of the king that essentially leads to the genocide of all who are "too busy" to come to the wedding (surprisingly, not an option I have previously considered for my Good Friday gatherings); I could go into Jewish wedding customs from the time of Christ; I could analyze why the king calls the mysterious robe-less man "Friend" before proceeding to throw him into the darkness for showing up without the proper attire (seems pretty harsh—beggars shouldn't be choosers, after all).
But to me, the entire parable hinges on verse 10. Those who were welcomed to the feast initially but turned down the invitation suddenly become the subject of the king's wrath. So his servants take to the streets dragging in everyone they can find. Good and bad, all are brought to the wedding feast together. The great message here is that it doesn't take the people who are "worthy" to build the Kingdom of God. It takes everyone: good and bad alike (we might say insiders and outsiders). A wedding without guests is lousy. So is a Kingdom without people who are willing to help build it together. Perhaps, if we personally commit ourselves to building it regardless of who shows up to help us, we just might receive the unexpected surprise of unintentional community. And therein lies unexpected grace.