In the Errol Flynn movie "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) Robin gives Maid Marian a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. He escorts her to table at a clearing in Sherwood Forest. The poor, hungry, downtrodden, miserable people have gathered there, and from the king's deer they prepare a meal in celebration of their already-but-not-yet liberation from the tyranny of the High Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and evil Prince John.
Spits turn, fires burn, and soon, all is ready. A great big man in a leather apron comes out to call everyone to eat:
"TO THE TABLES, EVERYBODY, AND STUFF YOURSELVES!"
Well. It isn't an exact parallel. They are, however, all sharing in the feast, high and low, rich and poor, alike.
What Paul had found at Corinth was different, and he admonished them:
For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! (1 Corinthians 11:21-22)
Paul is calling the Corinthians back to a true sense of the banquet of the Lord. He is calling them back to Peter's vision. Peter - and Paul - perceived that at the feast of the true king, nobody was left out. In the new order of the ages established by Christ, we receive the Great Commandment, "love one another." (John 13:34)
They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Peter learned that nothing is profane that God has made clean. All creatures, everyone and all things, praise the Lord. (Psalm 148)
All things praise him. What God has made clean, you shall not despise, but accept and make welcome.
In the peaceable Kingdom of Heaven, all share at the table and share alike (Acts 2): not gorging themselves in the presence of hunger.
Twenty-four years ago a Franciscan named Neal Flanagan taught a New Testament Theology class. He talked about Paul's observation, that in the peace of God, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
Neal remarked that in the first century of our era, the Church dealt with the first distinction, between Jew and Gentile; in the 18th and 19th centuries, we confronted the second, liberty and slavery; and now we are dealing with the third. But Paul's list is not exhaustive. It may be that what we confront now is different.
As Martin Marty and Dean Baker have pointed out, each age has its own particular partial blindness. We look back on past ages and ask: how could they be so blind? Their prejudices look, in hindsight, quaint, absurd, and deeply tragic. But what will a future age see that we do not? What is our blind spot?
Peter had a vision: God gave Jews and Gentiles the same gift, "the repentance that leads to life." There goes that first prejudice. William Wilberforce, Frederick Douglass, John Newton, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the unnamed volunteers of the U.S. Colored Troops - all these opened eyes to the second prejudice, the discrimination between slave and free. And that blindness has begun to recede.
What is our blind spot? Could it be wealth and poverty, hunger and surfeit?
A hundred years from now, will anyone be able to comprehend the idea of sitting down for dinner without all being fed? Who are the hungry among us? Who is lacking sustenance?
Yes, spiritual as well as physical - but certainly physical. Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." (Luke 6:20-21)
Have we been as blithe as the first Corinthians and happily opened our picnic baskets and lunch boxes, sharing them among themselves, not sharing with the uninvited - because unseen - poor: the poor who have nothing to bring to the potluck but themselves, their own creatureliness?
[At this point I hold up a bed sheet imprinted with a pattern of African game animals, both grazers and hunters.]
And yet behold this sheet! Imprinted on it not the face of Jesus but the animals of Peter's vision: Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! (Psalm 148:10)
They are animals of Peter's vision - and ours, if our eyes are opened. All praise God - Jew and Greek, rich and poor, hungry and well fed, slave and free. All are to praise God: who are we that we could hinder God?
All are welcome at the Lord's Table. Come, eat, and be fortified for the living of the gospel.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)
The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C - RCL:
Holy Trinity, Willows
May 6, 2007
Jon M. Walton, “Living by the Word: Dreaming in Joppa”, The Christian Century, April 17, 2007, Vol. 124, No. 8, p. 17.