Can you imagine? Surely among us we have a wide variety of wedding reception stories: of frightful best man speeches and great matron of honor tributes, of stellar dance moves (and not), of good food, fun, friends. Few of us, though, probably have a wedding story like the one in the gospel. The groom’s men hog-tying and dragging out a shabby guest; he showed up to the black tie affair in his sweat-stained, mud-crusted Carhartts. The heavy, oak doors swing wide to the dark night and, with a one-two toss, out he flies, to a bruising, bloody tumble. That would be embarrassing – memorably so. But the story’s worse than embarrassing, it’s life-ending serious. For the truth is: the wedding banquet is the great feast of salvation. There the Church, who are the bride and the guests, feast in joy with Jesus Christ, their bridegroom by faith. There belong all those who long to feast on God’s goodness, those who love to be in his presence, those who have been clothed with Christ’s perfection and who have proudly worn it. There, at the feast, are not those who choose to clothe themselves in whatever else they could find. So, fitting, the groom’s striking cry: “Many are called but few are chosen…”
Now 2 Chronicles 30, brings us a feast too. It was in the second week of April, spring of 715 BC. It was the first year good King Hezekiah ruled all by himself over Judah. And he was cleaning house. Between all the good and bad kings in the divided kingdom of Judah and Israel, worship of God had been pretty bad. Even at its best it was still a mix of worship for both the true God and false idols, with priests and pastors who served both. Hezekiah had re-opened God’s mothballed temple in Jerusalem and had restarted all the forgotten worship God had prescribed. Now, in the spring of 715, it was time for the great Passover feast – that meal that marked God’s saving of Israel long ago from slavery in Egypt. When death took many, many Egyptians and passed over God’s chosen few million Israelites. Such a momentous event should have been celebrated on a great, national scale, but it hadn’t been celebrated so…not for hundreds of years.
So the runners with the letter were sent. Hezekiah and his leaders had decided it. To invite all – many, many – from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north. To Judahites and Israelites – despite their divisions to come and celebrate what truly united them. To come and fill Jerusalem’s streets, to lift up the sacrifices, to eat the special meal. To say that they were those who put their trust in God – they were God’s chosen people, they were among the few.
The point was then and is now that God’s people gather with the many to be among the few… Hezekiah’s worship reform and Passover feasts, gives us a good opportunity to think about who the few in Jesus’ gospel are. This long-ago Passover feast gives us an opportunity to consider who belongs at the wedding feast of the Lamb of God. As we gather in our own time with the many, the purpose is also to be among the few. And it isn’t a club of the select and the good, rather it is…
…those who feast on salvation
Notice how Hezekiah’s letter went out to any and all of God’s nation. The call was to come. Even, and especially, it was an invitation to the brothers and sisters in the northern kingdom that had been devastated by false-god worship and foreign invasion. Among other things, Hezekiah wrote: “Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the Lord.” It was a call to repentance, to turn away from sin and to the Lord’s salvation. Many heard it, not all received it.
But it wasn’t only the northerners who were sinners. In the south, at the celebration, did you notice how it went? It’s a conspicuous mess so that we can understand who God’s few really are. They had to remove altars to false gods. They celebrated in the wrong month – two instead of one. There weren’t enough priests to do the work because they hadn’t made themselves ready. The people too hadn’t properly prepared and couldn’t make the sacrifices themselves as they should have done. And many ate the meal “unclean”. They all – north and south alike – needed what God commemorated in the Passover meal and what Hezekiah prayed for in vv.18-19: “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of his fathers—even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.”
This is the essence of being among those who belong at God’s feast. Those who belong are not wealthy or perfect, worthy of invite, stellar in their performance of rules and things. God’s few are those who need his pardon from sins. So you come too, so many – and not a one of us arrives with perfection. Some of us this week have turned aside God’s calls through brothers and sisters to turn from sin. Some of us are plagued with guilt and are ashamed. All of us need God’s salvation.
Literally, Hezekiah asked for God’s atonement – covering over their sins. That was the idea of the Passover lamb. They spilled it’s blood, they painted their houses with it. God would see the blood of the sacrifice that marked his people. It would cover over who they were in all their sins and say instead that they were his. The sacrifice of the lamb and the atonement of its blood pointed ahead to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.” He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The Passover lamb was to be as perfect as could be. Jesus was without sin, our perfect substitute. His blood purifies us from our sins – purifies us from when we have turned the call of God away and instead have dressed ourselves for all other kinds of feasting and partying in this world. In Jesus, God has made us whole – healed us from sin with forgiveness and peace. Clothed us in his perfection. This is exactly what it means to be God’s people…this is exactly what God’s people love.
The few are those who feast on this salvation with joy – who know they need it and long to have it. And then they live in it. They are also…
…those who feast in unity from faith
Look at this arcane text – this Old Testament worship, these prescriptions for a Passover feast – and smile. It’s so different from our own experience in many ways, but no different in this… Look at what God did through Hezekiah his king. In true spirituality, God’s people started up again what they had lost. In great numbers they gathered to toss out what was bad and to receive God’s good gifts. They did not have every detail in order, but they had “set their hearts on seeking God” – they had come in faith, knowing his forgiveness and love. People from north and south, who had formerly been enemies, gathered together for the best reason. And they celebrated with “great rejoicing” and they worshipped with songs and instruments and praised the Lord.
Do you know what brought it about? Look at v.12. “In Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.” This is what God’s “few” expect and do.
God has blessed us over the last years to be able to serve more and more people at Christ the Lord. Many Sundays we tightly pack into this place for worship. And we desire to gather many, many more. Why? It’s not for community barbecues and great potlucks and Trunk or Treats. It’s so that we can know the rich blessings God has given to us and that together we can praise his name.
Gather with the many here for that reason: that God’s hand might be on us to unite us to live according to his Word. Gather to be among those who sing about him in Psalm 23 – the shepherd who watches over our lives and promises we will dwell in his house forever… To grow in our ability to rejoice in everything with St. Paul – even when we’re anxious. Then, together, to bring our requests to God and pray for one another in need. And God will guard our hearts and minds with his peace and he will answer our prayers as he knows best. In fact, as we feast on his Word and savor his communion presence, he gives us a unity of mind and heart that these things, his things are our things. They’re just the natural thing God’s people do. Gather with the many to be among those who seek out “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—anything excellent or praiseworthy”. And to do more than just to think about them. We also put into practice every good thing that will bring others to praise God’s holy name and help us to do the same every day. We put on every thing that makes it evident that we trust in the God of our salvation and that we long to be with him and feast forever. And our confidence for these things will not come because we are many, but because we trust that “we can do everything through God who gives us strength.”
And, if God is our strength, then our joy will be just like Israel’s. The verse after our section today added an interesting aspect to Israel’s feasting long ago. It said, “The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully.” And why not? Can you imagine it here? That seven days wouldn’t be enough, that 14 days of praise to God wouldn’t suffice, that a lifetime of being among God’s many people to express how we are his chosen children wouldn’t be sufficient… I can imagine it, because God’s few in Christ feast on his salvation and in him they are properly clothed for that best feast ever and they are united in faith to proclaim their longing and to put out the inviting call to others… Gathering so, with as many as we possibly can, to our satisfaction we will one day find that feast goes on without end – forever and ever, God with his chosen few at the wedding supper of the Lamb. And we will belong. And it will be memorable, unforgettable, incomparable – the only wedding story to tell ever again. Amen.