The Wedding Garment
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The invitation had been extended by the king, and there were no strings attached to it. “All things are ready. Come to the wedding.” When those who were first invited, the cream of society, refused the invitation with indifference and even with violence, the king responded to their rejection by destroying their city. Then he sent his messengers out to the street corners and the marketplaces, anywhere they could catch a lot of people in a hurry; and the messengers were to invite everyone they could find. Finally the wedding hall was full. The wedding banquet should have begun then to the joy of everyone gathered. But the king came in and saw a guest who was in his street clothes instead of the wedding garment the king had provided. And the king asked the man, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?”
It is sometimes a fearful thing for Jesus to call someone a friend. In the Gospel of Matthew, between the use of parables and His address of people He encounters, He only calls someone “friend” three times. The first occurs in a parable in chapter 20, when the man who has hired laborers at different times addresses the men he hired first, men who are now complaining about their wages; and he addresses one of them as “friend”. The third occurs in chapter 26, when Jesus addresses Judas in Gethsemane as “friend” when Judas came to betray Him. And the second occurs in our text, where the king addresses as “friend” the man who has come in to the wedding feast without a wedding garment. None of these occurrences are what we would consider particularly friendly, and it does not end well for any of those Jesus addresses as friends. It is as if, as Paul suggests to the Romans, Jesus is heaping coals upon those who reject His love by speaking kind words to them. In truth, though the words seem kind, He deals harshly with those who claim to be friends in faithfulness to His Word, but who in reality are enemies, those who have proven themselves to be unfaithful.
We see in this text a metaphor for the whole history of salvation. Our heavenly Father invited Israel, His chosen people, to the union of His Son, Jesus, with His holy Bride, the Church. From Adam on, the Old Testament people of God were waiting for the promised Messiah. They had been told the wedding was coming, and they waited for the day when that promise would be fulfilled. When the Christ finally came and the wedding feast of His body and blood was prepared, those who had been invited first rejected the invitation, crucifying Christ and then persecuting and murdering those who had been seen to tell them that the wedding feast is ready, that Jesus had been raised from the dead, bringing life and salvation with Him. So the Apostles went to the ends of the earth, inviting everyone they could, Jew and Gentile, to the Feast of Christ’s body and blood. And many have come: the good and the bad, the just and the unjust, the faithful and the hypocrite.
One of the most common excuses people give for not coming to church goes something like this: “I don’t go to church because there are so many hypocrites there.” What a shameful reason to refuse the invitation. Everyone who is in church has been invited by the Savior—those whom the world sees as good and bad, those whom the world sees as faithful and hypocrite. What a shameful excuse to refuse the grace and gifts of God—shameful and ironic. A true Christian concerns himself with his own salvation in fear and trembling, not with checking the eyes of his neighbors for specks. By commenting on the spiritual condition of those who would share the pews with them, these people who are against hypocrisy have shown themselves to be the very thing they hate. They have shown themselves to be hypocrites, enemies of Christ and His Church. They have condemned themselves to the outer darkness.
But they are right about one thing: there is certainly truth to the claim that there are hypocrites in the midst of the Church Militant. Jesus Himself points them out to us in this parable. There are people who come to the divine service for the wrong reasons. There are people who come to see who else is there, and to make sure they’re seen to be there. The truth is, we look a lot like that hypocrite who has refused the wedding garment. We try to come to this place on our own terms, clothed in self-righteousness. There are people who expect to be recognized for the good they do in the community and for the amount of money they give to the congregation. There are people who come to church and expect the pastor, speaking in the stead of Christ, to say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your lord.” The congregation may never know what is in the hearts of these people, but the Lord certainly does. As the king speaks in the parable, so Jesus will say to them: “Take him away, and cast him into outer darkness.” They have already excluded themselves from the joy of the wedding feast; the Lord is just acknowledging their rejection of His grace.
But we have already been clothed in the proper wedding garment, the robe which has been made white in the blood of the Lamb and which has been placed on us in the waters of Holy Baptism. The King of kings Himself has provided your spotless royal robe of righteousness, and seeing that robe, no one will come to cast you into the outer darkness. Your teeth will remain ungnashed. Your eyes will remain dry of the tears of the anguish of those who have been cast away from the feast. Yes, you can choose to take it off, to reject this beautiful gift, but no one else can take it away from you. The invitation has been addressed to you, and our Lord has brought you to this place, where you may feed freely on the wedding feast of the body and blood of Jesus. You may feast on the Word of forgiveness, spoken to you by your pastor as by Christ Himself. You may drink to contentment the living water of Holy Baptism. Wouldn’t you love to be able to walk into your favorite store and freely walk out with everything you desire without having to pay for it? That is exactly what our Lord gives us in His church: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation for free! You don't have to earn it. You don't have to pay for it. There aren't any strings attached. There aren't any conditions. He's accomplished your salvation on the cross. He brings you into His church to receive and enjoy His salvation. You are an invited and welcome guest. All things are ready. Come to the feast. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.