The excitement of receiving a Save the Date notification means that preparations need to be made for an upcoming wedding, but Major Sue Hay reminds us of the ultimate wedding feast, and we are all invited.
I’ve had the excitement of receiving two wedding invitations this year. It’s been intriguing to see how much engagement notices and wedding invitations have changed since I got married over 30 years ago. For example, these days the couple ensure there is a photo shoot, perfectly staged for a social media announcement of the engagement. The couple select the wedding guests, and they send out the wedding invitations. Before the invitation arrives there can even be a pre-invitation. These ‘Save the Date’ notifications provide advance warning the wedding is coming, which allows us to start planning to attend.
For me, the arrival of each Save the Date announcement prompted me to explore wedding outfit options, plan holidays around the celebration and anticipate catching up with friends and whānau (family). To be honest, after the long months of Covid-19 restrictions I have really appreciated having something to look forward to.
Jesus’ Save the Date story
Many years ago, Jesus told a Save the Date story. In his story, a rich and generous host sent advance notice to various successful members of his community, inviting them to a banquet. Way back then it wasn’t until the feast was actually ready that guests received the final invitation to attend. Without access to text or social media, the host sent an actual person to find all his invited guests and announce it was time to come. However, every single person on the guest list now declined their invitation. They were all too distracted by external things to turn up: one had just got married; one had just bought some land; and one had just bought some oxen. These preoccupations were apparently too important to put aside in favour of the generous hospitality of the host.
The host reacted with anger and bitter disappointment. With his heart and his feast ready to share, his servant was immediately sent out again to search far and wide for people who were struggling with life to invite them to come. Many accepted, yet still there was room for more guests. So the servant was instructed to look even further afield. This time he searched along country roads and behind hedges to find any who would appreciate the host’s hospitality. Essentially the servant was sent to find guests others would have turned away, people who would never have expected such an invitation. He invited people like us!
When I first read this story I thought the point of the invitation was to have a good feed. But what if this story is more about the welcome than the food? The guy throwing the party oozed generosity. He longed to lavish love and welcome on any who would accept it; this welcome was all about being wanted in that space.
The honoured guests
My son’s Save the Date announcement has begun a journey of linking us with the local Arabic-speaking Egyptian Church community he will marry into. We recently attended a church service with him. Through a written translation of the service we recognised some of the content. For most of the service though, the language, rituals and traditional stories were quite unfamiliar. However, after the service, many greeted us warmly and insisted we stay for a meal. We initially tried to decline but quickly realised that saying ‘no’ would cause disappointment. They really wanted us to experience their hospitality. And so we accepted the invitation to share a meal. Our hosts treated us like honoured guests, ensuring we were well fed, that we had cuppas, and by being attentive to our every need.
As we left we were gifted a generous plate of food to take home. The visit really impacted me. My heart felt nourished for days afterwards. I suspect this deep response to the hospitality resulted from my host’s attentiveness to my every need, and how much I felt wanted there.
Jesus told his Save the Date story to help us understand what God is like. Like my Egyptian hosts, the host Jesus spoke of extended a generous invitation, especially to those who appeared unworthy. In the same way, God longs to lavish hospitality on us. The question is, can we accept it?
I’ve found it’s a challenge to accept God’s invitation when we are too distracted to hear it, or when we feel we don’t deserve it. It’s easier to avoid God’s offer by becoming overly attached to particular people, behaviours or things. It’s easier to isolate down a lonely road or hide behind a hedge trying to numb our pain and shame with substances or behaviours like gambling, shopping, work or even excessive Christian ministry. It’s easier to believe we are unworthy, and therefore unwanted.
The guests who eventually attended the banquet were the broken and bruised of their community. They were the ones who felt the least worthy of an invitation. They were the ones the servant went searching for. Somehow the servant, like my hosts, managed to convince them they were so wanted that they agreed to come.
The depth of the host’s welcome is difficult to accept when we cannot even accept ourselves. We are especially invited to accept the host’s generosity when we have nothing but our messy and broken, raw and real selves to bring. When we have lost everything, all we have left is our vulnerability. And that is enough.
You see, when we find our lives unravelling, it’s often because we have stopped attending to our own needs. Instead of valuing ourselves, we have placed our value in other people or things. Sadly, these false sources of identity cause us to lose our way. Paradoxically, our souls then fill with an emptiness which leaves us feeling unworthy and unwanted. However, this emptiness opens up space for us to hear God calling: ‘Haere mai. Welcome. Come’.
Answering his call
Remember how my Save the Date announcement set up a journey of preparation? I believe acknowledging our brokenness takes a step towards the banquet hall. We move another step closer by starting to believe a host wants us at a banquet where hope and healing are on the menu. We take our seat at the table when we allow ourselves to receive the attentive care of the host.
Over time, I’ve learned that God does not stop searching for us. God continuously longs to attend to our deepest needs for healing. Our host longs for us to experience being wanted at a banquet which will nourish our souls.
I wonder if we have already acknowledged our Save the Date invitation but not yet risked bringing our broken and vulnerable selves to the table. Or have we simply assumed we are not worthy or wanted?
Let’s overcome our hesitation. Let’s consider accepting the generous gift set before us. The banquet is ready. Haere mai! Welcome! Please come.