Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hymns for the Great Banquet

At our (28 BCP) parish today, the gospel lesson was Luke 14:16-24, the Parable of the Great Banquet. This passage is for Trinity 2 in the 28 BCP, and also called out for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost in the 1962 Catholic lectionary (“in the Octave of Corpus Christi”).

We heard the KJV, but here is the ESV (the RSV is almost the same):
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go oJesus, Breut quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
This seems such a powerful passage regarding the nature of faith: all are invited but few (today ever fewer) will come. It also anticipates Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

In his commentary Luke for Everyone, NT Wright notes that beyond the two obvious levels of the parable is a third less obvious implication for the faith:
The party to which the original guests were invited was Jesus’ kingdom-movement, his remarkable welcome to all and sundry. If people wanted to be included in Jesus’ movement, this is the sort of thing they were joining.
Strangely, it is nowhere to be found in the Revised Common Lectionary (according to the Vanderbilt RCL site). Looking through tables of the 1979 prayer book, the passage is also skipped in the Sunday readings for Year C and only found in the daily lectionary. The ACNA trial use lectionary also omits this passage, as does the 1998/2002 Roman Catholic lectionary for the US. (I thought the point of the 3-year lectionary was to cover more Scripture, not less.)

Hymnal 1940, 1982

I was expecting to have a hymn today touch on this theme. Our communion hymn came the closest: “Deck thyself, my soul with gladness” (H40: 210; H82: 339), a 1649 German Lutheran hymn with a tune (Schmuecke Dich) by Johann Cruger and a text by Johann Franck.  Verse 3 of the translation by the great Catherine Winkworth says
Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray thee,
Let me gladly here obey thee;
Never to my hurt invited,
Be thy love with love requited;
From this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
Through the gifts thou here dost give me,
As thy guest in heav’n receive me.
In fact, when I pulled out A Scriptural Index to the Hymnal 1982, this was the only entry in the book for this gospel passage (which confirms that the 1979 prayer book schedules the text only for the Daily Office).

But I also heard echoes of verse 1 from  familiar hymn that turned out to be an Easter season favorite (H40: 89, H82: 174), with the Jakob Hintze melody harmonized by J.S. Bach:
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing,
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierc├Ęd side;
Praise we Him, whose love divine
Gives His sacred blood for wine,
Gives His body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.
Hymns Ancient & Modern

In my folder of PDFs of old hymnals, I used a PDF search to look for mention of “banquet” (which appears only 5 times in the NT — 4 times here and once for Herod’s banquet that brought the execution of John the Baptist). This offered a third hymn from Hymns Ancient & Modern, described in the 1914 companion to Hymns A&M as follows:
128. P.
The Lamb's high banquet (Neale), 1851.
Orig. ascribed (?) to S. Ambrose. It was used as the proper Vesper hy. from Low Sunday to Ascension, but without a doxology, which was taken from hy. 141 for all hys. in that metre. It was the custom of the early Ch. that Baptism should be solemnly administered to many catechumens on Easter Eve. These persons were now for the first time about to receive the H. Com munion, and therefore waiting to share that high banquet In garments white and fair, in reference to the chrisom-robes given at Baptism, and worn till Low Sunday, called  "Dominica in Albis." The tr. is slightly altered. Dr. Neale wrote "We await" for "called to share," and in st. 2,1. 3, he gave "roseate," afterwards altered to "crimson," and then to "precious." In a preface he specially drew attention to these alterations as spoiling the idea of the orig. "Though one drop of Christ s Blood was sufficient to redeem the world, yet out of the greatness of His love to us He would shed all. As every one knows, the last drainings of lifeblood are not crimson, but of a paler hue : strictly speaking, roseate. Change the word and you eliminate the whole idea. Besides which, Christ is the True Rose, is a second reason for this word."
As in the companion, my copy lists this as #128 but Oremus lists it (perhaps from an earlier edition) as #111. (Hymns Ancient & Modern had notable inconsistencies across the various editions). The first verse is:
The Lamb's high banquet called to share,
arrayed in garments white and fair,
the Red Sea past, we now would sing
to Jesus our triumphant King.
The rest of the hymn has more of a Revelation 19 than Luke 14 feel to it.

In conclusion, I’m surprised that this major passage of Luke has so little scriptural support. However, right now — beyond US Continuing Anglicans and the global Anglicans who use the 1662 BCP — this passage is not often being heard.