The Banquet on the Mountain Top


Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

Our Advent desert journeying is unlike that of Lent. We are not so much wrestling with demons as with images of abundance, lavish promises, theology we can almost grasp.

The banquet on the mountain-top of which Isaiah speaks today is rather like the psalmist’s banquet in the sight of our foes: a not entirely comfortable experience. We have to make an effort ourselves, and be prepared to take the consequences. I wonder whether we ever think what that might mean when we read Isaiah 25? What is the effort we have to make to ensure our Advent is fruitful, and will that require us to make ourselves conspicuous in ways we would prefer to avoid? Shall we have to go against other people’s expectations; if so, how and why?

As lockdown ends and a new three-tier system of restraints begins in England, it would be easy to say the worst is over, we should just get back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. There is no end of often poorly-understood statistics and contradictory opinions to back that up. A more thoughtful approach, however, demands that we try to do what is prudent and in the best interest of others — and that is much less easy to decide. The point about that mountain-top banquet is that it isn’t just for one group — us — but for all; and in his humility and love, the Lord invites us to play our part in welcoming others to the feast. The question for us today, therefore, is how do we do that?

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Where Prayer Has Been Valid

Corbel at Holywell: Nabokov at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Yesterday we made a pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well and prayed for all the sick and suffering people in the world, which means, in effect, for everyone. We are all in some measure sick — not quite what we should be, probably rather less than we could be — and we are all in some degree suffering — not obviously, perhaps, but ‘underneath’, where we do not care to shine too bright a light. Today’s Mass readings remind us that we find our strength in the Lord. He carries us, just as the corbel at St Winefride’s Well shows a man carrying his friend.

There is always a beautiful quietness at Holywell. The battered old stones hold so many prayers, while the gentle bubbling of the spring recalls the waters of Shiloh and all the miracles of healing recorded in scripture. To pray in such a place, to light a candle in such a place, is to assert once again the supremacy of God’s love, the triumph of good over evil and the power of grace to transform lives. That is the true miracle of healing, the end to which our journey through Advent leads us.

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