A while back, I attended a friend’s voice recital. His selections included a few of the “Hermit songs,” anonymous Irish poetry set to music by Samuel Barber (Op. 29). The one that caught my attention lyrically is called “The heavenly banquet”:
I would like to have the men of Heaven in my own house;
with vats of good cheer laid out for them.
I would like to have the three Mary’s,
their fame is so great.
I would like people from every corner of Heaven.
I would like them to be cheerful in their drinking.
I would like to have Jesus sitting here among them.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family
Drinking it through all eternity.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the “great lake of beer” line. It seemed almost crass, and yet totally appropriate to how an Irishman might imagine the heavenly banquet.
Of course, the images in this poem are part of the Biblical imagination as well. Isaiah 25:6 says, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” Feasts and parties appear throughout Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, including in Matthew 22, where the kingdom of heaven is compared to a wedding banquet. And the best-known psalm witnesses to a table being prepared by God before the psalmist’s enemies.
I like the idea of God throwing a big, eternal party for us–a homecoming of sorts. Apparently so does Jesse DeConto, bass-playing frontman and songwriter of the band The Pinkerton Raid. My favorite song on their new album is called “The Life of the Party.” Besides having “bop-bop”s and hand claps to make it a fun sing-along track, the lyrics paint a beautiful picture of an open table:
Friends and strangers come together
Seeking solace, laughter, life
They gather round a common table
Where mine is yours and yours is mine
Everyone comes empty, hungry
The host has plenty of food and wine
Friends and strangers, all in need of sustenance, can come to this table and share together. The chorus is one line repeated: “The life of the party has plenty of wine.” This is an image of abundance that we desperately need in a world obsessed with scarcity, in a mainline church where our mission is too often driven more by numeric decline than by the Gospel.
Here are my favorite lines from this song:
This fermented fruit gives freedom
How can it be that death gives life?
The wine of which the life of the party has plenty should remind us of the Eucharist (communion, the Lord’s Supper). In the United Methodist Church, we generally use grape juice as a pastoral gesture to recovering alcoholics and as a vestige of bygone prohibitionism. But even as we crack open the plastic Welch’s bottle, it’s good to remember how wine is made: the fruit of the vine is crushed and it sits, ferments, dies and then becomes something new. The wine at Eucharist is Jesus’ own life poured out for us, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come.
If you want to sing along to a fun outlaw pop tune that happens to be a vision of the eschaton (the end times), have a listen below, and don’t miss The Pinkerton Raid’s CD release show on Saturday, May 26 @ 8:00 p.m. at The Casbah in Durham.