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The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

West Dublin, Vogler’s Cove, Crousetown – October 21, AD 2007

Make melody in your heart to the Lord,

giving thanks always for all things unto God…

 

The trees are full of fall colours.  Don’t we find it especially pleasing when we see a tree that is fiery red?  Is this what is happening to us as we mature in Christ – are we turning fiery red with love for God and our neighbour?

 

We are reflecting in these last few weeks of Trinity season on the highest stage of the Christian life – that is the life of perfection, the life of contemplation.  And it is important that we think upon this highest stage and desire it, because it is the end to which we are all being drawn by our loving Saviour.  It is the mystical life, the life of heaven.  It is something experienced perhaps most clearly for us on earth in Holy Communion – there we capture a glimpse, even for the briefest moment, held and allowing ourselves to be held in a loving embrace by God, though we are often distracted all too soon afterwards.

 

The life of contemplation is something described in various ways in the Bible:

-         it is entering into God’s rest, or the Sabbath rest

-         it is entering the promised land – the possession of our souls

-         it is the marriage union of our soul with God or of Christ and His Church. 

And the marriage analogy is what Jesus uses in today’s Gospel when he speaks of a king which made a marriage for his son.  This is the language of the Song of Solomon (the lover and the beloved), in Revelation (I saw the heavenly Jerusalem descending out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband), or in the prophets – and it is a favourite analogy used by the mystics, e.g. Richard of St. Victor, Mechtild of Magdeburg.

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Last week we were being encouraged, not to be afraid to enter into that rest, out of fear of condemnation, but rather, to be of good cheer, knowing our sins are forgiven.  Jesus said to the paralyzed man, Arise, take up thy pallet, and go into thine house.

 

I spoke of how we know something of this experience when we are alone, we often find ourselves uncomfortable with simply resting in our selves, in a loving beholding of God.  There can be a kind of fear in the silence to look at ourselves, or perhaps just a lack of hope that it might be of any value, and so we deliberately find things to distract us continually – entertainment, work about the house, career, food, sleep, something, anything other than simply resting in God.  And Jesus is encouraging us not to be afraid, but rather, if there is something that we are uncomfortable about with ourselves, to face it and ask forgiveness and rest in His mercy, being at peace because of the blood of Jesus shed for us.

 

So last week it was to not be afraid to contemplate.

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But this week, something different is being told us, something to fill out the picture more completely.

 

In the Gospel parable, God invites many.  Some refuse the invitation, some murder those who are sent by God to do the inviting – that is obviously a bad thing.  But some who are invited do come in - that is the case for every one of us here today – we have heeded the invitation, because each of us know that we are welcome here and in fact are encouraged by our Lord to come here.  The invitation, though, is not just to attend Church, but most importantly to attend to the Lord in our hearts.  Our outward acts here at church are to be accompanied by an inward movement towards God, to enter into the inner man and be renewed in the spirit of our minds.

 

But in the Gospel today, there is one who comes in and is found to be without a marriage garment and is cast into outer darkness.  It is a clear warning to us all to be ready for this high calling with the marriage garment since we have heeded Christ’s invitation to go into our houses.

 

This warning is found in the writings of the mystics.

 

Listen to Dante near the beginning of his final book of the Divine Comedy, the Paradiso:

 

O you who that follow in light cockle-shells,

For the song’s sake, my ship that sails before,

Carving her course and singing as she sails,

 

Turn back and seek the safety of the shore;

Tempt not the deep, lest, losing unawares

Me and yourselves, you come to port no more…

 

Or listen to the warning at the opening of the Cloud of Unknowing by the author:

 

I charge and beg you, with all the strength and power that love can bring to bear, that whoever you may be who possess this book…you should, quite freely and of set purpose, neither read, write, or mention it to anyone, nor allow it to be read, written, or mentioned by anyone unless that person is in your judgement really and wholly determined to follow Christ perfectly…take time over the reading speaking writing or hearing…If a man saw the matter only partially, he might easily go wrong.  Therefore, to avoid this error, for yourself as well as for them, I pray you for love’s sake to do what I tell you.

 

I don’t know how you would respond if you read this, but when I read those warnings many years ago, it didn’t stop me, but it did give me pause to think, it heightened my awareness of the great danger of the spiritual life, to be alert.  And this is the intention of today’s Gospel, because we know that our Lord wants us to come to Him, but He also wants to warn us to be alert.

When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment?  And he was speechless.  Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen.

Our acceptance of the invitation is vital to our salvation, but we are being reminded by our Lord and warned about the One into whose arms we are falling. It is like the warning in Hebrews:

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, …See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. …let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.

We do not approach the throne of grace here in the Church, the altar, but with the greatest care – examining our hearts, confessing our sins, trusting in God’s forgiveness.  Likewise, we are not to approach the throne of grace in our hearts when we are quiet at home in an inward way, with presumption, with pride or self love, but with awe and reverence and godly fear – a gift of the Spirit – for our God is a consuming fire.  We will not remain unchanged as we draw near in faith, but all dross will be burned up. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

 

Here we begin to catch a glimpse of the wedding garment that is required of us – an awe, a holy reverence, a sense of the majesty of God, a holy fear, a sense of unworthiness on our own account, but our being made worthy by the garment of Christ’s blood. 

 

Who would have thought there could be such danger to sit alone in your house and enter into God’s rest.  Are you stirred with desire for this highest adventure?  Have confidence in Christ to enter in, but beware, there can be great danger.

 

Listen to the warning of the mystic John of Ruysbroeck:

Now mark this: when a man wishes to possess inward rest in idleness, without inward and desirous cleaving to God, then he is ready for all errors; for he is turned away from God, and inclined towards himself, in natural love, seeking and desiring consolation and sweetness and everything that pleases him. 

But contemplation is not about resting in ourselves, being satisfied with ourselves, just taking – Christian contemplation is about resting in God.  Ruysbroeck continues…

 ...All these men live contrary to charity and to the loving introversion in which a man offers himself up, with all that he can achieve for the honour and love of God; and in which nothing can give him rest or satisfactions but …God alone.  For charity is a bond of love, in which we are drawn up to God, and through which we renounce ourselves, and whereby we are united with God and God is united with us.  But natural love turns back towards itself, and towards its own profit, and ever abides alone. 

What could be worse than to be abiding alone, it is as our Lord says, cast out into outer darkness and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth because there is no consolation there whatsoever.

 

So we see a little more of the wedding garment here.  It is a theme repeated in the writings of the mystics, the contemplatives.  We must cleave to God in love.  God fills us with His love, with desire, the garment – we are to take that desire, that love and return it to Him.  Seek God out with longing in our hearts, in true love, which is a mixture of joyous expectation and godly fear.  God is the ultimate lover and we are being invited today to love Him and to enter into His kingdom, to a marriage feast that we may evermore dwell in him, and he is us.

 

St. Paul knew that we must cleave to God in love – he’s the one through whom the mystics learned this: 

be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess [let’s not return to trying to seek ultimate satisfaction in the senses]; but be filled with the Spirit [that is, with Love, and then return that Love to God]; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God, even the Father, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves to one another, in the fear of God.

Loving God, loving our neighbour – in the garment He provides.

 

Is this where we find ourselves during the day when we are on our own, or with others? or at night on our beds?  perhaps with one of the hymns we sing today going through our minds, inwardly in a state of continual thanks in all circumstances, cleaving to God in love and with a sense of awe at all times?  ready to give ourselves completely, perfectly?

 

This is what is needed if we would enter into God’s rest.

This is what is needed if we would enter into union with Him.

This is what is needed if we would become fiery red like those leaves we see in some of the trees, and that are so pleasing to God’s eyes.

 

Amen.

 

 

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