The Great Banquet

I love food. I have for as long as I can remember. My friend Sierra will tell you about the unyielding focus that comes over my face as I eat any dearly loved food, especially dessert. When she imitates me, she gets her face as close to the dessert as possible, focuses her eyes on it like she’s in a trance, and shovels each bite into her mouth carefully, methodically.

Though I’ve loved food all my life, it was my husband Theo who really taught me to cook. When we were dating, I watched him materialize soups, sauces, and salad dressings out of nothing but vegetables. I watched him chop, sauté, caramelize, blanch, brown, and bake. He used spices – different kinds of spices for different kinds of foods! I was amazed. His superb cooking met my love of eating and we have been foodies ever since. We will do anything for a good meal. Once we even canceled a vacation to San Diego so that we could buy another much-desired kitchen appliance.

When we both became vegetarians two and a half years ago, the old “chicken and rice for dinner” standby no longer worked, so we started expanding our cooking repertoire even more, incorporating the vast variety and beauty of eastern cooking, from Nepalese curry to fresh rolled sushi. Every time I eat these foods, I picture sitting down with Nepalese or Japanese families, eating a feast that lasts hours, laughing, sharing life, drinking wine or sake.

In first century Jewish culture, wedding meals lasted an entire week. Hosts were responsible for providing not just food but abundant wine for a lavish celebration. It is behind this backdrop that we find, in Matthew 25, a story of ten young Jewish women, waiting around, getting ready to attend a wedding feast. The Bridegroom in this story, though, seems to be less than timely and keeps them waiting until midnight. Their stomachs must have been grumbling as they waited for the feast.

Any meal is great, but my favorite meal by far is dinner, because dinner symbolizes the end of the day, a job well done, a race well run. There’s nothing like surmounting an insurmountable task like running 5 miles, pursuing forgiveness, climbing a mountain, balancing a budget, or teaching a class of kindergartners how to read, and coming home at the end of the day to a steaming hot, delicious feast. The harder I have worked on any given day, the hungrier I am.

The first time Theo saw me cry, it was at the top of a mountain. We had been dating for a few months and he had come out to Colorado to visit me. Now, neither of us are really that outdoorsy. So, of course, I planned for us to hike a 14er. That’s a 14,000 foot high mountain for those of you that don’t know. It seemed like a fun idea. Thankfully, I had checked hikingincolorado.com for advice, and knew we needed to leave early to avoid being struck by lightning. So off we went, to Longs Peak, at 3am, up the mountain, in shorts, light jackets, a couple water bottles, and a few snickers bars. When we reached “the cliffs,” which are exactly what they sound like, I realized we should have brought gloves, and when we finally reached the summit 7 ½ hours later, I cried. Not out of relief, but out of panic, realizing that this journey was only half over and there was no zip line. I didn’t think I could make it back down the mountain. But Theo was there to whisper to me those two sweet words of encouragement: “chicken soup.” He had put a chicken soup concoction into the crock-pot before we left, and it was sitting at my apartment, at that very moment, waiting for us, if and when we finally made it home from our long journey. I could almost smell it already. On our 5-hour journey back down the mountain, even when we ran out of water 1.5 miles from the trail head, still we sang sweet hymns, literally sang, about the chicken soup. To this day, it was the best chicken soup I have ever had.

While the young women were waiting to get into the wedding feast, some were prepared, and brought enough oil to keep their lamps burning, but some were foolish and ran out of oil. Jesus, the storyteller of this parable and almost assuredly the Bridegroom in the story, finishes with this admonition: “therefore, keep watch, for you do not know the day or the hour.” We know from the context immediately prior to this parable that “the day or the hour” refers to Jesus’ return, when the world will be set right. Many days I, too, long for the world to be set right – to be led by righteousness and justice instead of corruption and fear. Sometimes the work seems long, and the Bridegroom feels late, and I’m hungry. If Jesus were talking to me, I picture him saying, “keep burning oil until I come. Persist, work hard, and wait.” Some days, I don’t feel like working hard or even showing up. But someday, I will sit down at a feast, with Japanese believers, and we will eat the best sushi ever made, maybe with some grilled salmon and a nice glass of sake. I hope there will be curry too, and injera, falafel, some turkey and potatoes for my American friends, and fresh baked enchiladas. May our hike down the mountain, whatever provisions we lack or sufferings we encounter, feel small compared to the grandness of the meal.

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”

– Revelation 19:9 (NIV)

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