- Church Office, Rosemount
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Over the next two weeks we will be looking at “Feasting in the Testament” with Penelope Wilcock. Penelope writes Christian fiction, pastoral and theology and Bible study. Her books include Spiritual Care of Dying and Bereaved People. She blogs at http://kindredofthequietway.blogspot.co.uk.
James is on holiday, but you will find the daily reflections from Friday 11th and Saturday 19th September. Just scroll down to find each day.
Friday 11th September
A feast of new life
Reading: Luke 15: 21-24 (NRSV abridged)
Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
Lovers of words cannot seem to agree completely on the etymological roots of the word ‘repent’. Some insist it grew out of the Latin word for ‘penitent’ and is all about sorrow for sin committed. The New Testament is in Greek, however, and the Greek word for ‘repent’ means to turn around – to do an about face. It was a military term for soldiers on the march doing a 180 degree turn to get going in the opposite direction. The Greek word is metanoia, signifying a change of mind of such significance that it involves transformation of a person’s whole inner nature, expressed in our passage by the contrasting of dead and alive, lost and found.
The story does not lose sight of the need to say sorry, to seek forgiveness honestly and humbly, which is part and parcel of repentance. It does, however, bring out the grace and generosity of God, who wastes no time on scolding’s or ‘I told you so’ diatribes but gets straight to work on developing the potential of a new beginning.
The work of God in Jesus is about making all things new – not a factory of novelties but a healing of the broken. The relief and joy and gratitude this brings is the root of Christian celebration. This party, this feast, is all about love and restoration.
Father, in prayer I come home to you again, in love and trust, in hope and confidence. Forgive me, lift from me my burden of sin. Fill me anew with your spirit of life, joy, and peace. O Lord, I receive your love.
Saturday 12th September
A feast that is always available to us
Reading: Luke 15: 29-34 (NRSV abridged)
‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
Uh oh. The prodigal son has a brother. Preachers focus understandably, on the effervescent joy of being forgiven, on the God who holds out the opportunity of starting again. That is certainly both relevant and welcome, but when the elder brother is mentioned, it is usually with criticism – focusing on his jealousy, sourness and so on. Sensing which way the wind is blowing, the members of the congregation try desperately to pretend that they identify more with the prodigal son, and his sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle than they do with the sober, faithful, responsible older brother. As if!
This would not be the gospel, though, if it were good news for only one section of the community. The father in Jesus’ story has the same abundant love and generosity for his older brother, too: ‘Son… all that is mine is yours’ (v31). Think about that for a minute. Is that mind-blowing or have I missed something?
This is not a special-occasion God, a few high points interspersed in a long bleak trudge through the valleys. Our Father in heaven offers us joy for the every day. It is the will of God that we allow ourselves to have fun, have some treats, that we should have the confidence and trust to reach out for what makes us happy. Hard to believe, I know, for those of us brought up with anxiety and guilt, but that is what the story says.
‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures evermore’ (Psalm 16:11, ESV). Give me the grace, O God, to live in the fulness of your love. May the abundance of your kindness fill my life and overflow to bless everyone I meet.
Sunday 13th September
A feast with an RSVP
Reading: Mathew 22: 2-5a (GNB)
“The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. He sent his servants to tell the invited guests to come to the feast, but they did not want to come. So, he sent other servants with this message for the guests: ‘My feast is ready now; my bullocks and prize calves have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!’ But the invited guests paid no attention.
I grew up in a poor family living in a rich neighbourhood with some very wealthy neighbours. How my mother treasured invitations to take tea with refined ladies in large houses, giving pride of place on the mantelpiece to the elegant printed cards with their copperplate lettering! The message always ended R.S.V.P. which my mother explained means ‘respondez s’il vous plate’ – that is, a reply was necessary. To ignore the invitation would be the height of discourtesy.
Today’s passage sketches a picture of a king who wants to include us all in the joyous wedding feast for his son. Not just the ‘in crowd’, everyone invited, nobody left out. This exciting celebration of life as supposed to be the highlight of our lives and we do not even have to wait, counting off the days. It is starting now – the party is ready! It seems almost incomprehensible that, for some people, this is of no account and the king’s invitation is treated like a flyer through the door for cheap pizza on Tuesdays – straight in the recycling bin or trampled on the doormat.
I guess it is all too easy to be focused on the mandate that we miss the invitation to heaven. Have you responded? See you there?
Your majesty, my Master, and my most royal Lord. I thank you with all my heart for remembering me, including me, inviting me. Today I am saying ‘Yes please!’ to everything, so proud and so pleased am I to be numbered among your guests at this wonderful celebration.
Monday 14th September
A feast worthy of our best
Reading: 22: 10-13a (GNB abridged)
So, the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people. “The king saw a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ the king asked him. But the man said nothing. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him outside.
Jesus makes it clear that ‘Everyone is welcome’ is not the same as ‘Anything goes’. My daughter worked for a confident, influential landowner who, passing through London one day, suggested they drop in at the Ritz for tea. Unfortunately, they were wearing jeans. The concierge did not care who they were – there is a dress code at the Ritz; entry was forbidden to them. They had to settle for the Savoy.
The implication of our Bible passage - that heaven has a dress code, too – has provoked much scholarly speculation. A consensus has been reached that the required wedding garment is God’s forgiveness. It seems to me that, much like the Ritz, you do not need a designer budget to get in – they will not look down their noses at you – but you are expected to prepare yourself appropriately. There is the glorious and lavish part that God does, his mercy – like the Ritz with its gold-leafed cherubs, fountain, and rich carpets, pristine starched table linen and dainty finger sandwiches.
Then there is then modest but essential part that we do in response – the cleansing of our souls in his redeeming love and the adornment of our lives in habits of modesty, peace, gentleness, prayer, and loving kindness.
This is not spiritual snobbery; it is about keeping life beautiful for everyone.
Lord Jesus, I humbly acknowledge my insufficiency, poverty of being and wretched rags of self-righteousness. Help me start again. Strip me, wash me, clothe me in the beauty of compassion, slip my feet into the shoes of the gospel of peace. Make me fit to come into your presence.
Tuesday 15th September
A feast meant to be shared
Reading: Luke 16: 19-23a (NLT abridged)
A rich man splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with sores. As Lazurus lay there longing for the scraps rich man’s table, the dogs would come came and lick his open sores. Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his sole went to the place of the dead.
Political parties differ in their approaches to the poor and needy. Some take all wealth into state administration, creating equality of citizens; others protect family dynasties of inheritance, promoting a trickling down of wealth via employment and charity. Unfortunately, you cannot legislate for kindness and compassion. Communist regimes are as elitist as aristocracies.
The gospel is political in that is always about community. This feast is not a banquet you eat alone in front of the telly, the door bolted, the curtains drawn; it is for sharing. Loving your neighbours implies seeing them, knowing them. Yet, the gospel cannot be appropriated by party politics because anything partisan promotes self-interest, and the gospel is not about even the self-interest of the poor, it is about loving my neighbour.
This means responding to every kind of poverty and vulnerability with the gentleness of compassion. It’s currency is quite different from the coinage of money and status, even of education and medical care. It’s kindness may flow through those channels, but they are not the gospel itself. The love God is implemented not by systems but by the free choice of a human being.
Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless. Speak for them and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and needy’ (Proverbs 31: 8-10, GNB) Help me, loving Father, to see Christ in everyone I meet. May I be neither overawed by status nor scornful of lowliness. Make me compassionate towards all who are vulnerable, remembering that each one is infinitely precious in your sight.
Wednesday 16th September
A feast of faith and hope
Reading: Matthew 26: 27-29 (NIV)
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you; I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’
I take my hat off to Jesus. Such unspeakable faith. Such far-sightedness. Such insight and vision. He lifts up the cup to God of his own blood soon to be shed – a cocktail of fear and agony, torture, and death – and he gives thanks!
Thanksgiving blesses, effects transformation. He knows that in the rich wine, this bitter medicine, spilled blood, lies the hope of humanity, the way forward to a new creation. By this blessing we become blood relatives; here is effected our belonging to him, our chance to benefit from his sacrifice and be forgiven. He also raises our very everyday sustenance, the ordinary components of human life, into the sacred realm, making them holy. With such surpassing courage and grace, he looks beyond the worst that this world can do to him, to the coming of a kingdom of wonder, love and peace, the harvest of this cup of suffering. In this feast, Jesus links together all that has wounded us with the hope he has won for us.
This feast acknowledges the realities and limitations of human life while fixing it in the greater context of the brightness of God’s coming kingdom of peace and joy.
Lord Jesus, I adore you in your unconditional self-offering. In this humble meal where you give all you have, I feast on your grace, your love. Today I give my life into your hands. Raise the cup with all it contains, say the blessing for me, so that I may feast eternally with you in the kingdom you are starting here on earth. Help me to give thanks today for so glorious a salvation.
Thursday 17th September
A feast requiring responsible planning
Reading: Acts 6: 1-4 (NRSV abridged)
The Hellenists complained because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Select seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”
Eating together is a powerful and primal kind of bonding. When people sit down to eat, they are off guard, so trust is implied. Eating the same food creates cultural belonging. As our passage shows, from its first beginnings, the church regarding eating together as essential – even when it caused contention.
The practicing of the Christian faith is organised around a meal table, of course – the sacred, solemn mystery of the Eucharist. Reading the Acts of the Apostles, it seems that the ritualised ceremonial meal, around which we unite today, was once an actual supper – a sharing of the daily bread and the flask of wine that were the sustenance of ordinary people. In modern times, the Alpha course has focused our recognition of the importance of eating together, reviving the practice of incorporating a meal as an integral feature of fellowship, strengthening, and clarifying the links between sacrament and ordinary daily life.
If loving our neighbour, living our faith, sharing in fellowship is to declare itself in practical, physical realities like this, organisation and finance are implied. The property management and administrative aspects of the church that feel so tedious and not very spiritual turn out to be as the heart of something very beautiful after all.
God of love, help me to remember that in a life of holiness, you call me to not only beautiful symbolism but also practical, everyday reality.
He bids us build each other up. And, gathered into one. To our high calling’s glorious hope. We hand in hand go on.
(Charles Wesley 1747)
Friday 18th September
A feast of contentment
Reading: Luke 14: 7-9a(GNB)
Jesus noticed how some of the guests were choosing the best places, so he told this parable to all of them: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place. It could happen that someone more important than you has been invited, and your host, who invited both of you, would have to come and say to you, ‘Let him have this place.’
Twenty-first century families! The parents of both bride and groom were divorced; both fathers had remarried. So, the bride’s father’s new wife was not invited (until later when her mother got a boyfriend) and the groom’s father’s wife was not allowed to sit at the top table, but had to sit separately from her husband while the original couples were reunited at the top table. Complicated? Yes. The groom’s father objected, the bride cried, and the groom did not speak to his father for two months.
The thing is, sometimes it is helpful to read Jesus’ teachings about community and simple peace between human beings rather than those about religion. Think of our passage for today in those terms. Suppose we let go of attachment to social precedence, forget about our rights and what is due to us, choose not to be offended, to see things from the other person’s point of view? This says Jesus, is the way into the kingdom of heaven.
At times of family tension, my husband quotes Tom Clancy’s words from Debt of honour. ‘The Japanese are giving a war. Are we going?’ Humility and contentment, the relinquishment of rights and status in favour of simple kindness – these are the building blocks of the peaceable kingdom.
‘Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal’ (from the Methodist Covenant Prayer) Oh my Master – call me and I will come. Show me where to be and I will go there. Give me my place in the world and I will be content. Only give me the grace to discern your voice and the faith to understand and follow.
Saturday 19th September
A feast in the eternal life of heaven
Reading: Revelation 19: 9-10 (NIV)
Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’ At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!
The marriage feast as a parable of the kingdom persists through the New Testament. As the infant church begins to develop the structure of its life in community, welcoming and inclusive shared meals provide the faithful signs of a hospitable God. Bearing in mind that in its early days the church suffered severe and violent persecution, one can see how the idea of the marriage feast comes to symbolise the brave celebration of unquenchable Christian hope.
In this last book of the Bible, written late by John on Patmos. the symbol of the meaning of the marriage feast is impressed on us again. This time it brings a caution to settle for nothing less. As the visionary falls at the feet of the angel to worship him, he is reprimanded. God and God alone is worthy of worship. Everyone else, saints and angels and all the company of heaven, are the invited guests at the marriage feast of the one true Lord.
This message is clear. Fellowship, hospitality, respectful and humble love – these are the attitudes we must espouse towards one another in service of the servant king. Adulation and hierarchies have no part in our faith. We have one Lord only and our faith is in Christ crucified, risen and ascended. Our hope is in him.
This is the house of banquet and of song,
this is the heavenly table spread for me,
here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong
the hallowed hour of fellowship with thee.
Horatious Bonar. ‘Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face’ (1855)