…we need that deeper narrative of the Kingdom which requires us to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). The cross symbolises the heart of the character of the King of this Kingdom who was himself the ‘suffering servant’. Jesus brought liberty and healing to others but did not seek to preserve his own life in his contestation for justice and reconciliation for all, because he recognised that self-interest and self-preservation lie at the nexus of the fallen powers which breed fear, pride and selfish ambition. The cross reminds us that change begins in a changed perception of ourselves as agents of a powerful and non-violent resistance to an order manipulated by fallen powers.
These powers thrive simply because few actually do resist them ‘unto death’ (whether literal or metaphorical) with the clear-sighted vision and wisdom of the resurrection power of God’s Kingdom.
The cross opens the way to the hope of resurrection. It represents Christ’s ultimate negation of the fallen powers in their attempt to script his final destiny. Many of us forget that Jesus called us to share in his struggle for justice, which inevitably brings suffering as we take up our own cross. The apostle Peter reminds us that in order for the glory of this just Kingdom to be manifest, we are required to labour and share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13). This powerful Kingdom truth could be seen to represent the ultimate Carnivalesque in that it inverts even life and death in the new order of the Kingdom, where those who seek to preserve their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for the sake of this Kingdom will find them restored (Luke 9:24). Where the ‘whitewashed’
tomb of the teachers of the law spoke only of death under the aegis of fallen powers, the tomb under God’s grace is the womb of resurrection life; the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thus, we see that the cross is the ultimate inversion of the present order of reality as it guarantees both our death and resurrection. As such it represents the real hope for a new and enduring Kingdom. This Kingdom is not shaped by the fallen powers, where fear and death are the ultimate predators in the hierarchies of power, but rather, the kenotic power of self-emptying which gives way to resurrection and fullness of life.’
The banquet brings together the themes already discussed of solidarity and social equality and laughter around a table of plenty; a banquet for the entire world. The banquet is a fitting culmination of the work for justice–plentiful provision in community for all. In her book A Place at the Table: Justice for the poor in a land of plenty, Judith Ann
Brady makes the theme of ‘a place at the table’ a guiding metaphor for achieving justice for the poor and the oppressed. The table represents friendship, provision and nurture and it also represents inclusivity and agency, in that all who sit at the table can join in the conversation and decision-making which flows from that.
For people of faith, working for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, there are two stages of the biblical banquet feast. The first, the Eucharist, anticipates the second, the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). Jesus’ recasting of the Passover feast with his disciples in the lead up to his own death links the justice themes of the people of Israel’s liberation from Egypt with his own work of liberation and justice as King of the new Kingdom and his anticipated culmination of that work on the cross. The Carnival banquet always contains an ‘element of victory and triumph’ which provides the symbolic pause between the celebration and completion of one cycle of labour for justice and the invigorated new beginning of another cycle of labour for justice…Even as we work for his justice and shalom, we need to remind ourselves frequently (‘for as often as you eat this bread and drink this wine’) both of the lament and suffering of the ‘whole of creation which groans’ and of the joy and thankfulness of the freedom we can taste in anticipation.
The Eucharist is truly ‘food and sustenance for the journey’ and, in addition, it marks out and reminds us that there is also material provision in true fellowship. There is a second biblical focus on the banquet theme which is that of the ‘marriage feast of the lamb’ in Revelation 19:6-9. This banquet is the ultimate celebratory closure of all cycles of work for the justice of God’s Kingdom and it acknowledges, interestingly, both the work of Jesus and of all of us who have taken up our cross and followed him:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts(1) of God’s holy people)
For the person of faith, the Eucharist is a symbolic feast which celebrates repeated cycles of work for justice in God’s Kingdom. Yet it also points beyond the immediate travail for God’s Kingdom and recognises, in solidarity with ‘all who suffer the pains of childbirth’ (Romans 8:22) that there will come a time when the permanent and outrageous plenty of the wedding feast will replace the transitory nature of the Eucharist feast. This Eucharist itself marks the move beyond slavery to the world’s unjust systems, towards the liberation and laughter of pilgrim communion and feasting. Importantly too, the banquet table also reminds us of the concrete value of our material lives.
The banquet table reminds us to work for the justice of provision of the material well-being for all of humanity, but it also reminds us to open our lives to the hospitality of the Kingdom, which calls us to share so that those who have little have enough and those who have much, have less; the redistribution economics of the Carnival Kingdom which are a powerful reminder of our ultimate place within the context of a human family of faith.
(1) Consider what a righteous act might mean.