Summary: A personal account of a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace illustrating Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Garment.
My message is a reflection on the combination of a parable (Matt 22:1-14) and a rather special visit to Buckingham Palace which I trust will act as an illustration. When I partially retired I was asked to take on the task of the honorary treasurer of Welfare Service Charity. I found it quite interesting and rewarding to do a little service for the needy minority of our Island home. The charity was entered for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for voluntary groups who do service in the community and it won the award for Guernsey. Besides receiving the "Unsung Heroes" award and a certificate signed by Her Majesty, two of the honorary workers, with their spouses, were invited to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, and I was fortunate enough to be one of those nominated. Lots of people can pay to have a tour of the Palace when the Queen is away on holiday, but to receive an invitation was a really special and an unexpected reward.
When Jesus spoke to the crowds that gathered around Him, He often used everyday events to illustrate His teaching. Parables are "earthly stories with a heavenly meaning". The parable we’ve read gained a new meaning for me when we went up to London for the special occasion. The story Jesus told was of a man who was invited to a king’s wedding feast. He went along and presented himself at the entrance gate but something terrible happened - the palace guard took one look at him and threw him out! Why was this? It was because he wasn’t properly dressed. He hadn’t taken the trouble to come in the clothes required for this occasion. Of course, he stuck out like a sore thumb.
It was the custom in the East for the host to provide each guest with a wedding garment, probably just a clean white robe. In this way the poor needn’t be ashamed of their rags, and the rich no right to be proud of their morning suits or gowns. Our society is ridden with class structure but in God’s sight we’re all the same - sinners in need of the garment of salvation. But here was a man who had accepted the invitation but ignored the conditions attached to it. He pushed his way in without wedding clothes. He had been offered a garment, but he refused it, presumably because he thought he was "smart enough" without one. It was an insult to the host. His attitude was that his best was good enough for God! And God says that it isn’t! The king in the story has the man ejected. Jesus was saying that God would do the same to anyone who relies on his own fancied goodness to gain entry into His Kingdom.
My wife and I weren’t provided with court dress for the palace but, like the several thousand people who presented themselves at the Palace gates, were given strict instructions as to the style of dress required, including hats for the ladies. I’d never seen such a fine collection of ladies’ headgear! What a fashion parade! There was a great deal of security around the Palace - policemen were everywhere. As we approached the gates, we were checked that we were dressed appropriately and had to show our entrance card and passport to prove our identity in order to get in. How sad it would have been if we’d forgotten the instructions and gone in our beach clothes or lost the special cards and our passports to confirm whom we were! We would have been sent packing as gatecrashers. That’s what happened to the man that Jesus spoke of who didn’t meet the entry requirements for the king’s wedding feast.
There was a bishop next to us in the queue, resplendent in his purple gown. He told me that this was his fourth Garden Party and that the Queen "liked a splash of purple!" But even he had to show his identification documents! This reminded me that in coming to God’s Kingdom even the great and the good of this world need to prove their entrance qualifications. The Bible tells us that it is having our names inscribed in "the Lamb’s Book of Life". The wedding garment in the parable speaks to us of the righteousness of God which is offered to all in Christ Jesus, and which is upon all who truly believe in Him as Saviour and Lord. All our own righteousness are as filthy rags, but when we come to the Lord Jesus in repentance and faith, then God imputes His righteousness to us, reckoning Christ’s righteousness as ours.
The Kingdom of God is for the humble and obedient. Never mind the superficial surface evidences like so-called fashion or style. We’re all invited to join God’s party on the basis of admitting that we didn’t make the grade. Thank God, His banquet isn’t a garden party for the successful and the smooth. The broken down, the come in last are offered a seat at the King’s table. Far from being an exclusive gathering of the great, the loaded, the top dogs of society, the Kingdom offers a free pass paid by the blood of Jesus for those who normally would be left outside. The superficial badges of appearance and competence that we wear must be left outside the door. It’s because of the knowledge that we’re all messed up - all have sinned - that we can come into God’s house. Stripped of pretence, we’re all ordinary - but much beloved.