The readings for today from the daily eucharistic lectionary:
All three scriptures feature meals. The gospel story is Matthew’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. Psalm 23 includes the line, “you spread a table for me in the presence of those who trouble me.” The Isaiah passage begins:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
The messianic banquet is one of the predominant images for Jewish reflection about the messianic age in the decades leading up to Jesus. Drawing on rich biblical imagery, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other sources express a hope that the age to come will include a bountiful feast of rich foods and wines. That image was picked up and expanded in early Christianity. One need only think of the importance of table fellowship in Jesus’ ministry, the numerous times we see him feasting (and the criticism of his and his disciples’ actions). But in the gospels, Jesus also brings about the messianic feast. In the gospel for today, Jesus creates more than enough food from sparse resources, so that everyone goes away satisfied. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes wine out of water after the part had already been going on for quite some time.
At the Last Supper, in language echoed by the gospels’ accounts of the feeding miracles, Jesus takes bread and wine, gives thanks, and gives it to his disciples. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
Advent is a time when we think not only about Jesus’ first coming, but also about his Second Coming, and the idea of a messianic banquet remains a powerful image in Christian reflection. The Isaiah text is one of the suggestions for Hebrew Bible readings in the BCP Burial Service liturgies, and rightly so. It evokes the rich memories of our own celebratory meals, and looks forward to an even greater celebration in the age to come.
Our holidays are full of celebrations, parties, meals like Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day when tables groan from all the food on them. We seldom make the connections between those meals, the Eucharistic feast, and the messianic banquet, but we should. The meals we share together as families and friends are icons of the meal we share when we share Christ’s body and blood.
They are not for ourselves alone to enjoy. For our joy to be complete, our invitation must be shared with all of humanity, our table extended to include who hunger and thirst.