Matthew 22.1-14: Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet given for the King's son. The party is already going on before the King arrives: “When the King came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe.” The feast has already started. And the King expects the guests to be properly attired. He expects them to be ready. Are they ready? Are we?
The feast that has already started is a wedding celebration for the King’s Son: he should be centre-stage. Yet the Son and his bride don’t get a mention in the parable after the first line. The marriage itself doesn’t happen in the story: we don’t make it that far. We, the listeners, get only as far as the unprepared guest; we are thrown out into the darkness with him. We’re given no idea of what the bride looks like, who she is, the joy that awaits her and her groom-to-be. It’s like looking at a wedding album with all the photos of the couple cut out. Jesus leaves his audience in the dark. All we can do is look in on the feast from the outside, maybe just glimpse the lights, vaguely hear the sounds of rejoicing.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be closer than that. I mean, after all, isn’t that why we’re here? Isn’t that why we’ve come to the feast, joined the party? To celebrate the union of the Son and his bride?
In fact, there’s more to it than just spectating and celebrating, if only we’re prepared enough to see, if only we we’re properly clothed, because what Jesus doesn’t tell us, but St Paul does later, is that we are the Bride. The wedding is none other than that of Jesus, the Son, to His bride, the Church, the mystical union of God and His Creation, the final oneness of the Kingdom of Heaven and earth, light breaking through the veil, and that is why nothing but our poshest frocks will do: because we’re not just invited as idle guests, to munch the canapés from the sideline - surprise! - we are to be the Bride. We are to be as close as one can be, we are to share in Christ’s own utter intimacy with the Father, we are to be loved as adopted children, sons- and daughters-in-law of the King. And we need to get ready.
We can be. It’s no use saying, “I haven’t got time to put my makeup on,” or, “give me five minutes for my varnish to dry:” there are no excuses. We’re invited, everyone is invited. You were given the invitation the moment you were conceived, you were given the clothing of salvation when you were baptised, so yes, Cinderella, you can go to the ball. No: you’re at it already: and although you may not see with your eyes the angels and saints singing and dancing at the heavenly altar to which this altar joins us at the Mass, they are here, the Kingdom is here among us, and if we can bear to open the eyes of our heart we will know that they are with us.
But the vision is weak. We see through a glass darkly. It takes practice, prayer, preparation to open those eyes of the heart. Spiritual preparation for every Eucharist we come to: true contrition, repentance for the stains we have put on the garment God gave us, wonder and thanksgiving that He has forgiven us, time spent simply basking in the presence of His love. There are so many ways to pray: one, at least, to suit each of us! Silent meditation, regular Confession, prayer with Scripture, the Rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, simple conversation with God - if you haven’t yet found how you pray best, then maybe this parable is saying that now is the time. Just ask one of your fellow guests around you for advice, and don’t worry about turning up to the party dressed the same as someone else. We can be different: but we must get ready.
What’s the party like, I wonder? Well, of course, it’s a metaphor, and like any metaphor it has its limits. St Augustine puts it differently in this week’s Collect: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” If parties aren’t your thing, then this is another way of talking about what God has invited us to: rest in Him, forever, in His heavenly city, “where we shall see Him face to face.” But don’t write off the party metaphor completely. It’s not an eternity of cake and tea with the goody-two-shoes elect, granted: the good and the bad are invited alike, which is definitely good news for most of us. But it is a party where there will be no drunks brawling, no spiked drinks, nobody taking advantage. No hatred, envy, malice. A party of sheer joy, bliss, ecstacy. A marriage, a union with the divine One who became human so that we humans could become divine.
We don’t have to wait until we’re dead to know the Kingdom. The party has already started. Pray, practise, prepare, and we can join it here and now. We can take it with us wherever we go. We can bring it to earth as it is in heaven. Everyone is invited— and the Lord will join us just as soon as we are ready for Him.