THE BANQUET AT THE END OF TIME
A Pastoral Letter for the Teulu Asaph from the bishop: October 2021
One of my very favourite poems is by George Herbert, the seventeenth century Anglican theologian and minister. Entitled “Love (III)”, it is for me an interpretation of the very heart of the Gospel – the Good News that we as Christians are called upon to proclaim.
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.
Jesus himself spoke about the Kingdom of God as a banquet, a great party, which God would hold at the end of this world, and which would inaugurate the next. In Herbert’s poem, Love (God himself) invites us to this heavenly feast.
However, as set out in Scripture, there is a problem, what theologians name our inherent “sinfulness”. In other words, a flaw at the heart of our being makes every single one of us less than perfect, unqualified for heaven. The subject of the poem – the “I” – knows the problem: he has marred the divine image in his life and he is “guilty of dust and sin”, so that shame (what we might call repentance) will not let him enter the feast.
Yet, where the Bible identifies the problem, the Bible also reveals a solution: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3.16). In the poem, Love takes on the sin and shame of the world: “Who bore the blame?” It is a reference to God’s sacrifice of himself in Jesus upon the cross, where God takes on himself all the pain, fault and cost of human failure (Colossians 2.13,14), and pays the price of salvation, the price of entry into the feast. To pray this poem, and make it our own, is to be a Christian.
The Church’s central purpose is to live into this promise, and to invite others to live into it as well. God longs for us to attend an eternal feast that none of us are qualified to enter, but by his love and grace, by his sacrifice, the way is made open, if we will but accept that the price is paid. It is this exchange which is at the heart of the Gospel, the good news of salvation: it is what salvation means, and it is reflected throughout the New Testament as a description of God’s action in Jesus. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4.10) “If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8.31). What greater invitation could there be?
As we come out of lockdown, and enter again into our mission, which is the purpose for which God sends us into the world, let us remember that the proclamation of reconciliation through the Cross is the heart of everything we believe and do. This is the Gospel of the Lord, and throwing the doors of our hearts wide open to Jesus is the one action, above all else, to which we are called.
Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity.
Meanwhile, in the words of Lance Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army, “Don’t panic!”
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
The disciple John was the brother of James and both were known as the Sons of Thunder, a revealing nickname suggesting stormy personalities. John certainly sounds tempestuous in the way he orders the unnamed person to stop healing in the name of Jesus but his complaint is because he’s not one of ‘us’. He probably expects that Jesus will be pleased about what he’s done but that’s not the case. Jesus always asked people to “Follow me”, not us, and he tells John not to forbid the exorcist because he is doing a mighty work, in the name of Jesus.
Reflection – Mary
Reflection – Ann Griffiths
“It is written in the Prophets: they will all be taught by God.” Jesus, in John 6:41-51.‘One of the best guarded secrets of the Island of Britain.’ Canon Donald Allchin, of the hymns of the Welsh poet Ann Griffiths.This coming week sees the anniversary of Ann Griffiths, whose short life left only seventy stanzas of her poetry, formed into some of the finest Welsh hymns ever written. A rather romanticised picture of Ann hangs in the St Melangell Centre, although no-one knows what she actually looked like, and a photo of it follows this reflection.Ann Thomas was born in 1776 on Dolwar Fach farm in Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwynfa near Llanfyllin, not far from Pennant Melangell. Her mother died in 1794, when Ann was 17 -she then ran the household and, with her father’s death in 1804, she and her brother took over the farm. In October that year Ann married John Griffiths, who joined them both there. However, after the birth of their daughter Elizabeth ten months later, Ann died aged only 29, two weeks after their baby was buried – she lived for only 24 days.Ann lived in the same farmhouse all her life and it might seem that her outlook would be very limited in those days. However, she lived in an age of great industrial and social change and was thirteen when the French Revolution began, with Britain and France being at war for almost all her adult life. Coaches also regularly ran close by, going from Chester to Aberystwyth, London to Holyhead, Bala to Shrewsbury and Cardiff to Chester – it seems that Llanfihangel residents had better links to public transport then than now!Despite her limited circumstances and hard life, Ann was a woman of faith and intellect. Canon Allchin, so much involved at Pennant Melangell, applied to her these words from a poem by Waldo Williams: ‘Beth yw byw? Cael neuadd fawr Rhwng cyfyng furiau.’‘What is living? Having a great hall Between narrow walls.’Who would have thought that a young woman from rural Wales would have written the poem ‘Rhyfedd, rhyfedd gan angylion….’ ‘Wondrous, wondrous to angels….’ which the critic Saunders Lewis called, “One of the majestic songs in the religious poetry of Europe”? Or that one of her hymns would be translated by Rowan Williams and sung at his consecration as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002?Part of this translation from Ann’s “Yr Arglwydd Iesu” reads, “Under the dark trees, there he stands, there he stands; shall he not draw my eyes? I thought I knew a little how he compels, beyond all things, but now he stands there in the shadows. It will be Oh, such a daybreak, such bright morning, when I shall wake to see him as he is.”It may be that, as we continue to emerge from the shades and gloom of the pandemic, we may glimpse Jesus standing in the shadows because of what’s been experienced in the solitude and isolation that was necessary. Or, that life during the pandemic has taught us many lessons, not least to see things as they really are with having to remove the rose tinted glasses we sometimes prefer to wear. Just as Ann – or Melangell in this valley, or Mary Jones walking 26 miles to Bala to get a Welsh Bible – was not defined or confined by circumstances, so we need not be. What new horizons might develop spiritually for us if, like Ann Griffiths, we look and hope for the bright morning that will surely come?With my prayers; pob bendith,Christine, Guardian.
“The crowd…. went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.” From John 6:24-35.
Not only food, journeys and experiences were shared throughout the Donkathon but also lives and love – the bridge between this world and the next. Where people are willing to reach out, seek the welfare of others and make a difference, wonderful things can happen. Jesus showed that, when so many people were fed by a boy’s meal and love multiplied. As Donkathon showed us, that can still happen and the money raised will enable other lives to be touched by that same generosity that is so much needed today. Well done Polly, Peter, Carole and all involved – especially Wizard, Muffin, Blackie and Nelson!