Hilltop banquets – an Advent Sermon (Isaiah 25:6-10a and Matthew 15: 29-37)

Our OT reading this morning, sees all the peoples of the world gathered on a mountain top for a great celebratory feast, one at which only the very finest food is served. This abundance of the best is an image of the grace of God who wants to gather everyone to himself, so that they can feast together and with him.

The mountain in question is Jerusalem, Zion, the place that at the time of these prophesies was the ultimate image of God’s peace and presence with his people. Yet, it was also under frequent constant attack due to the disobedience of God’s people, and in a few short years the people of Israel would be in exile in Babylon. The prophesy looks forward to a time when the shroud of death and destruction that must at the time have seemed all-enveloping, would be torn apart so that people could encounter the sort of healing that overcomes the worst that sin and disgrace can do to distance lives and communities from their need for God’s presence. It is a prophesy of hope for which God’s people must wait patiently, and which they must be willing to share – for a mountain-top banquet with God is to be offered to everyone, not simply the Jews; all are called to the feast.

On a mountain top adjacent to the sea of Galilee, an area where both Jew and Gentile lived, we can assume perhaps that representatives of several ethnic and religious groups are gathered at Jesus’ feet in our Gospel reading. Their tears were being wiped away by the power of his healing touch in the lives of those who were brought to him injured, ill or distressed.

But, beyond these miracles, there is something about Jesus that holds thousands with him for three days without a reliable source of food. They may have been attracted to the area for the headline grabbing spectacle of a miracle man, but they seem to recognise in Jesus the possible fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy for which at least some of them will be aware they have waited for generations; the presence of the God of Israel. The banquet he offers on this occasion may only be a few loaves and fishes gleaned from those that had had the foresight to bring sustenance, but as he gives thanks to God and asks his disciples to share it out among the throng, it seems that a little goes a very long way. Yet this initial vision of God’s abundant love, will become a reality only too soon when Jesus is crucified, the temple curtain torn in two and the stone is rolled away; only then will the abundant love of Christ be truly shared among all people by his disciples.

Each year, we are reminded in our Advent preparations of who God’s world is still waiting for. The point of Isaiah’s prophesy, God’s extraordinary birth as an ordinary baby, and Jesus mission of healing and sacrifice, was that God longs to be sat at a banquet with all people. Whilst it is perfectly possible to get the attention of a few through miraculous healings, there are many for whom the needs are more basic: they need to be reminded that they are hungry before they feel faint, and they need to be fed; people live not just by bread and fish, but by their spiritual hunger being met in Christ before they reach crisis point. And it is we, his disciples that are responsible for distributing the nourishment that he provides, in the sure knowledge that there is more than enough to go round.

It is tempting to think of the mountain-top of busyness and banquets that we call Christmas as being a special time for us, God’s faithful disciples, to come close to Jesus, and despair of having enough time and effort in the festivities to share with others who seem to only join us for the spectacle. We need to recognise that Jesus came with compassion for those who are not yet his disciples, seeking to meet their hunger and needs, and asks us to prioritise those over our own. If people are going to be fed spiritually this Christmas they need to be sat at Jesus feet and receive in simple ways the very finest nourishment, so that they do not go away empty. Our role, is make sure that we are aware of the resources both practical and prayerful that we can place at Christ’s disposal, and then be prepared to allow his grace and his blessing to make that a banquet through which all who are gathered can receive their fill.

P1210016cw
St. Mary’s Old Basing is hosting it’s first Crib Festival on 12th and 13th of December where many locals will be displaying treasured crib figures and new creations. The event also features music from our local schools, craft stalls, and our popular book stall and coffee shop.

 

For a different take on the same Gospel passage, here’s what Rev’d Ally said to the students of Westcott: it’s all about the crumbs!

 

Liturgical “bake” off

Our Ascension Day balloons that were released from the top of St. Mary's tower during our Ascension Day acclamations.
Our Ascension Day balloons that were released from the top of St. Mary’s tower during our Ascension Day acclamations.

This morning we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord with Eucharist and balloons… but no bacon.

Somehow I had got it into my head (goodness knows how) that there would be bacon butties after the service. There weren’t. Though there were perfectly lovely croissants, with butter and jam, and plenty of tea and coffee. Our hard-working sacristan had got up ridiculously early to prepare this, and so I’m selfish and cold-hearted even to mention a word of criticism.

But, I had wanted bacon, and felt let down. So following the modern trend, I bemoaned the lack of bacon to my friends on Facebook, aware as I was, that bacon is hardly suited to any festival remotely rooted in the Jewish tradition. Yet, I humbly submit that since the Ascension was part of the new covenant, and an element of the journey towards the blessing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and because of Peter’s experience of being told by God that “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15), bacon is a perfectly acceptable Christian festival food.

As the morning wore on my mood was lightened by various suggestions as to what food best celebrates which Festival and Feast of the liturgical calendar, and a dear neighbouring clergy friend suggested the idea of a “liturgical bake off” – something which St. Mary’s enthusiasm for cake making would be most suited to hosting.

So, working through the church year, and using the suggestions so far gleaned from tradition, Facebook friends (to whom credit and thanks) and the warped minds of my family, I offer the following as a starter, to which you are welcome to add suggestions.

Advent Sunday – Date cake

Christmas – Christmas cake (obviously), Angel Cake

EpiphanyStargazy pie, a box of Terry’s ‘All Gold’

Candlemas (Presentation of Christ) – Pigeon Pie

Baptism of Christ – water biscuits

Temptation of Jesus – Apple crumble (because it’s a des’ert), Rock buns (also known as rock cakes)

Conversion of St. PaulRocky Road

Ash WednesdayCreme brulee

TransfigurationBattenberg (berg = mountain)

Annunciation of our Lord to the BVM – Angel Cake (again), Angel Delight

Mothering Sunday/Laetare SundaySimnel Cake

Maundy ThursdayPenny buns or the edible fungus Boletus edulis (Penny Bun)

Good Friday – Hot Cross Buns

Easter Day –  The perfect souffle, (oh, and chocolate eggs, apparently)

Ascension Day – meringues (because a ‘cloud’ hid him from their sight), not bacon it seems, and not pitta bread (because it hasn’t risen), Sc’one

Pentecost – BBQ, carrot cupcakes with little orange marzian carrots/flames, flame grilled… (whatever you fancy really)

Trinity Sunday – Three fruit marmalade, Tri-fle

Harvest – Pumpkin pie, plaited loaf

All Souls – choux pastrie (think ‘soles’), lemon sole

All Saints – iced ring doughnuts (haloes)

Christ the King – Coronation chicken, Royal jelly