Joshua 5 and Luke 15 |:| Feast of Forgiveness
Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; Mar 6 2016
Communion is one the greatest sacraments to me. It is constant. It is abundant. It is welcoming. It is a feast of the most pure nature. Communion reminds me we are forgiven and invited – perpetually received regardless of what has been before. Today’s readings both contain feasts that resemble the feast we will share in today.
The Old Testament reading from Joshua is significant – you see there had been no observance of the Passover feast during the 40 years in the wilderness. They had been nourished off of manna and quail.
The Lord had sustained the Israelites with food that was plenty for all to eat – no more and no less. As they journeyed through the wilderness they were fed with food that was not proper for observing the Passover meal.
The first generation to experience the first Passover had since died in the wilderness and now the next generation was being welcomed into the fold of practicing the Passover feast.
Before entering the land of Canna Joshua – the leader following Moses’ leadership – gathered the Israelites to make covenant with the Lord. Tradition had it that men had to be circumcised to observe the Passover and in order to set themselves apart from those outside the Israelite covenants with the Lord.
Joshua knew that having escaped the enslavement of the Egyptians and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness they would need to enter a covenant with the Lord before they were settled in Canna and opened themselves to temptation by the Canaanite gods.
The Israelites partake in the feast of Passover and the manna stops. The feast of their ancestors had been brought to life once again. The remembrance of God’s provision and forgiveness had been observed once again.
The New Testament reading is one of three stories offered to the Pharisees and Scribes about God’s character. The Pharisees and Scribes were questioning why Jesus was eating and associating with such Law breaking Jews, tax collectors, and prostitutes.
The first of the three parables offered to their inquiries is the story of the lost sheep and leaving the 99 sheep to find the one. The second parable in this sequence is the one of the woman losing her final coin.
Then we get to the parable read today – the one most notably known as the Prodigal Son. The feast found in this text is one that often makes many readers uncomfortable, because it’s a feast that throws all social norms of the time on their heads.
The youngest son, the one who left his father and squandered his inheritance returns and out of great celebration for having his son the father throws the best of feasts in his honor.
The older brother who stayed and worked as was proper in those times comes upon the party and is deeply angered by his father’s actions. The father offers the same care and love for both of his sons – and invites the older brother to see this and partake in it. In each of the parables the character of God is revealed to be of utmost grace and lavish welcome.
Both of these feasts bring us to the feast we celebrate around this table today. From the feast of Passover to the practice of communion we are reminded that we serve a prodigal God – one whose character is lavishing its children with feasts far beyond imagination.
A prodigal God who receives our repentance – the metanoia Anne discussed in her sermon last week – is received with reckless extravagance of love and grace. When we return to God after confession and repentance we are met with full welcome;
as we see the Israelites welcomed to a new covenant with God and as we see both the younger son welcomed home and the elder son welcomed to experience the generosity of their father.
So why on earth are these stories found as our lectionary texts this fourth Sunday of Lent? They aren’t ones of Jesus journey to the cross or of his temptation.
They almost seem out of place – until one realizes that during our self-examination we need to be reminded of the character of God. This is the first year that I have heard and read that Lent is a joyous season to some perspectives.
For many years I had seen this 40-day season of introspection as one dawned with sackcloth and ashes, doused with the aroma of guilt, and covered with the hues of darkness.
Joy is not how I have described Lent but this year I can see the joy of this season. The season of lent calls us to look at how we are disjointed from those around us, within ourselves, and to God.
This examination can bring to awareness some aspects of self which are not pleasant and when action is called to bring those relationships into wholeness it can be quite difficult and not enjoyable – thus we can find ourselves caught in the darkness of the season and guided by guilt.
At other times we may not observe the season of Lent at all because we do not wish to experience this soul-searching. It is not an easy task to see how we are out of balance; to acknowledge what sins we have done towards others, to God, or to ourselves.
It makes sense why the season of Lent is not seen by all as a joyous one. Yet in Living Lent this year I have come to see that when we repent – when we experience metanoia – we are not met by the punishments or harshness of God.
We are enveloped in the grace and love of God; and for some of us that is even harder to handle or imagine than receiving punishment from God.
We aren’t told how the younger brother responded to his father’s lavish welcome but I could imagine a desire would have been to spend the party apologizing to everyone, asking his father to stop celebrating, naming that he was not worthy of such love, and that he deserved to be a servant of his father rather than his child.
For some it would be understandable to feel the younger son needed to feel as though he out to earn the welcome back into his father’s graces.
Perhaps the younger son was so overwhelmed by this extravagant love that he was speechless and merely wandered throughout the party as though walking through a dream he would soon wake up from and be met with the reality of being his father’s servant.
Who knows, the younger son might have hit rock bottom so hard that the love of his father was the only balm to heal his drifting and estrangement and allowed the welcome to take place and respond with deep thanks.
We are also left hanging with the older brother’s response to the father inviting him into the party. Jesus was a wise and cleaver teacher; he likely does this so that the ones who asked the original question – the Pharisees and Scribes – would have known the question was for them.
Would they stick to the Law or would they realize the character of God is larger than legalism and begin eating with and living community with those who are not suitable according to the Law?
You see I have been the older brother when I observe the season of Lent. There is no joy or celebrating. There is no asking God to give me a party of the meager level of a goat, let alone one of a fatted calf. There has been mere observance and obedience.
I can honestly say I have never experienced Lent as the prodigal father does. I forget that repentance does not mean we stay in the fragmentation of confession. Repentance means we move into pardon and assurance that is the extensiveness of God’s love and grace.
Lent is a season of looking at our lives and being invited to be honest about our relationships and how we are choosing to live life – this can certainly bring up pain and feelings of guilt. This year, though, we shall move past the older brother’s observance and move into the younger brother’s – allowing God to be the prodigal parent God has always been.
God has always been the prodigal parent but just as the prodigal father we are left with an open ended question of whether we are ready to receive the extravagant grace of God.
Collectively we are invited to see Lent as a joyous season that brings us through these 40 days that mirror Jesus’ time in the desert being tempted, through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday to the breaking of dawn on Easter morning.
Knowing that we are Easter people allows us to examine and confess without a crippling fear. Easter is not here yet, and that is a beautiful thing; it gives us time to experience the contemplation of Lent and enter into the forgiveness and feast of God’s response.
Today we are met with God’s feast once again. We remember that manna and quail were a stopgap for the Israelites until they could feast on the land once more.
Once the Israelites had bickered their way through the wilderness they came to the promise land and feasted on food from the land. They recalled what they had escaped, the provisions the Lord made, and covenanted with each other and God as they observed the practice of Passover.
They had made it through the 40 years of wandering and were met with the feast God had promised. We are invited to partake in communion today, as it is a feast day in our 40 days of Lent.
Whatever we abstain from or choose to take on in these 40 days takes a backseat to the feast today. Sundays we are reminded that even during the 40 days of self-examination we are met with Joy on Sundays. Repentance is met with pardon and absolution – with the joyous welcome of God’s extravagant love and grace.
The texts today reveal that God is not one of punishment but of restoration and prodigal forgiveness. It can be hard to believe that we worship a God that does not meet us with guilt but receives the feelings of guilt we might have, embraces us, and reminds us that we are beloved children of God and are forgiven for believing anything else.
In a world where if a person gets food it means others go hungry, where if one has more than others have less, it can be hard to understand how the younger son getting the fatten calf party does not mean the older son does not.
It means that the older son is invited to share in the celebration and if he had asked his father, he too, would have had the celebration. When a person is forgiven it does not mean the rest of us receive less grace or love from God.
In the Kingdom of God our understanding of supply is turned on its head. You see, when one is forgiven it means there is more grace to be given. When one is brought back to whole relationships it does not mean another relationship must break; it means more of us are invited into healing and mercy.
So as we come to the table today see this Lenten season as a joyous experience of being met by a God that runs to meet you as you begin to repent; a God who stops you midsentence and says you are loved, you are forgiven, be at peace; a God who dismisses cultural norms and invites all to share in the feast.
The God who welcomes you to this feast is a prodigal God.
God whose love surpasses our understanding; a love that gives us courage to believe we are more than enough; a love that call us by name and gives us strength to bring justice to the world around us.
A love that has us feasting with our enemies, where there is more than enough, and where we are greeted with forgiveness and wisdom to live more fully into God’s grace.
Lent is a 40-day season we observe as a church, but hopefully it is a practice we will continue the whole year. Just as much as we are Easter people let us be Lenten people who know that introspection and confession moves us to be encircled by a God who has loved us since before we were born and has never left us.
Lent as a joyous season is a new perspective to me, perhaps new for you, and one that is captured in fullness on this feast of communion Sunday.
The question the father poses to the elder son is the question we are asked today – will we go inside and join the party, knowing God’s love for another is the same love God has for us, or will we stay outside not ready to receive the truth that God’s love for others overflows with love for us as well. What will your answer be this feast day?