The Upsidedown Feast

Matthew 21:23-32 and Philippians 2:1-13
© Stacey Steck

Church, let me ask you a question: Are deviled eggs of divine origin, or human origin? And they argued with one another: “If we say they are of divine origin, he will ask us why they are called deviled eggs. And if we say they are of human origin, he will ask how they can possibly be so delicious.” So they answered him: “We do not know.” Neither will I tell you whether in fact there will be deviled eggs in the kingdom of heaven. But I can assure you however that there will be deviled eggs at the meal following the service and that there had better be some left by the time I get there!

Yes, “deviled” eggs at a church potluck are just one more sign that God likes to throw upsidedown feasts. How about the Passover celebration? Unleavened bread and bitter herbs. How about four thousand people fed with just five loaves and two fish? How about a King’s wedding banquet attended by the riff-raff pulled in from off the street? How about a fatted calf killed for a feast for a prodigal son who humiliated his father and squandered his inheritance? How about all those meals Jesus shared with the same tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes who make an appearance once again in our passage from Matthew this morning. Not to mention a last supper thrown to celebrate the next day’s murder.

Jesus didn’t decree that the feast by which we remember him and celebrate his sacrifice be one with the richest food and the finest wine. No, he asked us to remember him with the simplest bread and barely drinkable wine. He did this, I believe, for the same reason he teaches the chief priests and the elders of the faith of his time that it will be the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the least likely, who will be most pleasing to God. And if it is the least likely, it will be the poor, and the children, and the immigrants, and the women, and everyone else cast aside by those who say they believe but don’t really act like it. Yes, these are the ones who do the will of God for they know what it is to have need, and to wither away from lack of love, and to feel ostracism, just like those Jesus identifies in his own time. Who gives a greater percentage of their income to charity? The rich or the poor? Yes, it’s the poor. Who doesn’t give the color of a person’s skin a second thought? A child. Who works doing the jobs no one else will do? The immigrants. Who does the same work for 80% of the pay? Women. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” he means that they are not cursed for being poor, as the wisdom of the religious establishment suggested. While the world thought that those who were poor were cursed because they had sinned, Jesus says that they are blessed in spite of that condition. Blessed, not cursed, are the hungry, because God throws an upsidedown feast.

The kind of humility that Jesus ascribes to those who do the will of God is the same humility about which Paul writes so beautifully in Philippians. In what may be the oldest part of the New Testament, Paul homes in on maybe the most important part: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves,” exactly the opposite of those Chief Priests and elders who are told that the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter in before them. “Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.”

I know it’s not always easy making something to bring to a church potluck, but you do it anyway. You do it because you are looking not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. You are like Mattie Johnson in Cona Adams’s poem, Ambrosia from Heaven:

The minute it touched my mouth,
I groaned in ecstasy.

Still warm from the oven,
delicate, sublime flavor,
ethereal tongue talk.

For the first time
I fully understood the term,

melt in your mouth.

I told her. I said, "Mattie,
It’s ambrosia from heaven."

Every potluck dinner at church,
she brought it.

I never forgot her kindness,
or the wonderful taste
of Mattie Johnson’s Chess pie.

That’s the thing about church potlucks, isn’t it? They transform our simple self-interest of eating into our desperately needed common interest of community, and they say something about the kingdom of God in the process. You see, when we gather with the one thing we have each labored to bring, we get to eat so much more richly and so much more abundantly than we ever could in our own homes, and with so much less work. And we get to taste things we could never taste at home. It’s like the difference between ambrosia and ambrosia? Do you know what Ambrosia is? At church potlucks, traditional Ambrosia salad is that creamy fruit salad with pineapple, mandarin oranges, canned fruit, marshmallows, coconut and whipped cream. But in the ancient Greek myths, the word ambrosia means immortality and it is the food or drink of the Greek gods, often conferring longevity or immortality upon whoever consumed it.

The same is true of the table around which we gather on this World Communion Sunday. The bread and wine here do not confer immortality, but in fact something even greater. They offer us grace. They show us humility. They remind us of the one who put our interests above his own, he who did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but who emptied himself so that we, with all the rest of the tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, and yes, even the Chief priests, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, could be filled with the grace none of us deserve. And just like a church potluck is so much greater than the sum of our individual dishes, so too is World Communion Sunday is so much richer when we remember how each church and each culture comes to the table differently, with different clothing, and different kinds of bread, and with different cups to hold the fruit of different vines, all seeking to be blessed, and not cursed, to experience ambrosia, to know the mind of Christ and to have that same mind with every other Christian who comes to the table no matter who they are or where they are, because our self-interest cannot be separated from the interests of others. What affects one affects us all and what affects us all affects each one of us. Freedom remains an illusion while anyone remains in chains.

Yes, in the kingdom of God, all the feasts are upsidedown. The guest list includes people you wouldn’t expect. But the conversation at the tables is simply divine. The food never runs out because God’s generosity never runs out. And yes, there are deviled eggs in the kingdom of heaven. May we experience the fullness of Christ’s table as we come to it along with the rest of the world. Amen.