Tuesday, November 5, 2019
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - 3 November 2019
Dear Fathers, Friends,
Gospel reading: Saint Matthew 22 beginning at verse 1
“Everything is ready”
“Everything is ready”, it seems but are we? What does it mean to be ready for the banquet, for the wedding feast? What, indeed, is the wedding garment without which, it seems, we are not ready; without which, it seems, we are out even when we think we are in; without which, it seems, we shall be “cast into outer darkness” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
The times are never so bad that a good man cannot live in them. The quality of the times in which we live cannot be the measure of virtue and character. No. It is rather the setting in which virtue is shown and character is proved. The question for Christians “at all times and in all places” is whether we will be defined by circumstances or defined by grace. By grace, we mean the highest perfection of human virtue which is God’s work in us and for us, come what may in the world around us.
One thinks, for instance, of an Augustine, dying in his Episcopal see of Hippo Regius in 430AD, even as the armies of the Vandals were besieging the city, about to obliterate what had been the work of a life-time in the formation of Christian souls. It was the first of a series of invasions that would virtually obliterate any trace of North African Christianity. It was to survive principally in the writings of its theologians, chief of whom was Augustine.
Or one thinks, perhaps, of a Dante, cast out of his beloved city of Florence and into the dark wood of exile. And yet, in spite of his exile, or, it is, perhaps, not too much to say, because of his exile, he produced the greatest epic poem of Christian pilgrimage, The Divine Comedy, “to lead those”, as he says, “in a state of misery to the state of felicity”.
The point, perhaps, is best summed up in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, where the Duke, exiled to the forests of Arden, poignantly, if not a little romantically, says:
Sweetare the uses of adversity;
Which,like the toad, ugly and venomous
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
How hard andyet how necessary to know the “good in everything” and even, that “sweet are the uses of adversity”. And yet, it was in the dark wood,Dante tells us, the dark wood of the world’s adversity and the soul’sperplexity, that he learned a great good.
The alarms and the adversities of our day, politically and ecclesiastically, rightly arrest our attention. The great biblical scholar Jerome, responsible for the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible (so formative for Western Christianity right up to and including The Book ofCommon Prayer, as, for instance, in the Latin titles that adorn the Psalms), contemplating the sack of Rome in 410 AD by Alaric the Ostrogoth, wrote that “the mind shudders at the thought of the ruin of our age”. The mind shudders. It is not simply shattered. Rather it is shaken into thought upon the greater mystery and wonder of God’s Providence at work in and through the follies and foibles of our humanityhowever distraught and in disarray.
To be defined by the circumstances of our day is to choose Fortuna, that ancient goddess of blind chance, Lady Luck. She, of course, goes merrily and gaily on her way, favouring first one and then another, but leaving so many more in the ruin of her train. You see, she doesn’t care. She goes merrily on her way. The wheel turns and we are either lifted up or crushed below. If we choose to follow the revolving wheel of fortune and happen stance, going with the flow, as it is commonly said, then we shall be broken upon the wheel of her indifference, broken as much inwardly as outwardly. And yet, perhaps, that may be the awakening of the mind to the Providence ofGod.
For God does care and, ultimately, even the adversities in our affairs belong to the lessons of his care, tough lessons though they may be. They may be learned from the pageant of history, from the poets, and from the parade of our own experiences. But surely they are best learned through the light of his Wordilluminating a way of understanding.
We have spoken about Augustine, Jerome, Dante and Shakespeare. But there are a host of others who also bear testimony to the Providence of God and the readying of the soul for the things of God in the face of crisis and adversities. William Nicholson, born in the late sixteenth century, was deprived of his living as an Anglican Priest during the interregnum – the English Civil Warperiod in the mid-seventeenth century – and survived by teaching school. The Prayer Book, too, was banned. But at the restoration in 1660, what did a William Nicholson do? It was not only that he was made Bishop of Gloucester but he undertook to write An Exposition on the Catechism. He recognized that after such a ruinous time what was needed was precisely are turn to foundational principles of our lives in Faith. What could be more foundational than the Catechism which seeks to create a resonance in us of God’s Word and Son? The Prayer Book catechism is almost unique for its liturgical character, its brevity and its strong insistence on the doctrinalbasics of the Faith and our identity in the Faith. And such we may say is an illustration of the Providence of God for us readying our souls for the things of God in good times and bad.
In Jesus Christ, the Providence of God is written out for us to read most clearly and most dramatically. He is, we might say, the mind of God’s Providence, the Word and Son of the Father who “came unto his own and his own received him not”. The parable in today’s gospel is a parable of the gospel itself. Jesus shows us a picture of our indifference to his love, to his good for us, but only so as to shake us into readiness and preparation.
What, then, is the wedding-garment? It is nothing less than the charity of God in the sacrifice of Christ. The wedding-garment is Christ Jesus, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ”. Our preparation is our full yearning for his love. It includes and, indeed, demands our full-hearted repentance.
For what is this marriage-feast in the parable? Surely, it is the marriage of heaven and earth, the union of God and man in Christ Jesus. It signifies his whole incarnate life – the preparations for his coming and our refusings, his coming and our callous disregard. But the parable is told to make us ready “both in body and soul”, to shake us into thought and action. “Everything is ready” and he would have us ready too, ready and prepared to enter into everything which he, in his Providence, has prepared for us. “Everything is ready” and God would make us ready, too. He is, afterall, “the good in everything”.
“Everything is ready”
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,