Harvest, 11 Oct 2020
In Jill Murphy’s Book, Peace at Last. Mr Bear is trying to sleep. But Mrs Bear starts snoring. He tries baby bear’s room but he’s wide awake pretending to be an aeroplane. He moves round the house trying to find some peace: but the kitchen has a dripping tap, the sitting room has a ticking clock, the garden has an owl, even in the car the birds are starting to sing. So he ends up going back to bed and finally he can say Peace at Last. And then the alarm clock goes off, but it’s alright because Mrs Bear brings him a nice cup of tea.
Peace is often misunderstood in our own time as being an interior state of mind that we can achieve ourselves if only others would leave us alone. In reality it is actually about our relationship with others, with creation and supremely with God. I will look briefly in turn at these three things dynamics.
As we celebrate Harvest Festival today, we have a chance to consider afresh our relationship with the earth. The first murder, by Cain, causes the very stones to cry out with the blood of Abel that has been spilt (Genesis 4:10). This is teaching us that our sin disrupts our relationship with the very ground we walk. Think also of the image of Adam and Eve being dispelled from the Garden of Eden at the end of Genesis 3. We’re not quite where we’re meant to be on this earth.
God has asked us to look after the earth. If ever you’ve looked after someone else’s plant or been in to check on their home while they’ve been away or borrowed someone’s clothes, you will have been particularly nervous, I am sure, to return them in as good a state as when you received them. So it must be with our stewardship of the world. Eventually we will have to give an account of how we have used the earth’s resources and ensured it is of benefit to others. And chief above all we must inhabit this earth so that others can see we know it to have been created by God.
But what of our relationship with others? The pandemic has continued the trend of making people more isolated. There’s so much to be gained from social media but it can also mean we only hear the views of people with whom we agree. Geography, conversely, has a wonderful habit of throwing us alongside people with different view points. One of the important details of the parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel is that it is set at a wedding, the coming together of husband and wife.
Coming together with others will always be a physical experience. Zoom and phones are wonderful achievements of human creativity and invention but they are only ever substitutes for actually being in the same room as someone. While I can tell you down the phone God has forgiven you, it is only in each other’s presence in the Confessional that words of absolution, of truly being set free from sin can be heard. It is only in the tenderness of physical union that new life, the life of a child can come forth.
In our parable the King invites guests, lots of guests, including those not on the original invitation list. But one cannot stay for he is discovered to be without a wedding garment. This person is evicted, out of the Big Brother House. But this isn’t a question of wearing the right clothes. It’s not that that person didn’t have a nice hat or wear a tie. St Gregory the Great with many of the Fathers of the Church teaches us in one of his sermons that this missing garment is charity, is love (Homily on the Gospels 38). “Put on charity,” Paul exhorts us (Colossians 3:14), for it “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
In the prophecy of Jeremiah, which we’ve been looking at in our Study Group on Zoom - the series ends on Tuesday - the false prophets are criticised for saying there is peace when there is none: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, Peace,’ when there is no peace,” (Jeremiah 6:14). We need to avoid the modern understanding of peace as meaning shutting everyone out which reportedly leads to safety. We saw this empty logic when parents quite understandably stopped their children playing on the street for fears of safety without taking properly into account the danger of children in front of TVs all evening and the danger of grooming on the internet behind closed doors: saying peace when there was no peace.
It’s great that we’ve started live-streaming the 10am Mass. I worry that this might be seen as endorsing this “all-is-well-if-we-stay-at-home” mentality. The best way to fight against this is to come along to Mass, of course, but for some of us this is simply not possible. In those situations do try to involve someone else in your watching the Mass. Maybe you live with people you could invite to watch it with you? Maybe you have people in your support bubble and you could watch it with them? This would especially be fruitful if they don’t normally go to Church or go where there isn’t Mass regularly. If you’re not having anyone in your home, perhaps you could agree to watch it with someone with whom you speak on the phone and then discuss it afterwards and add your own prayers when you do speak. Do something to keep alive the reality of relationship and the obligation of caring for another’s soul!
So, we are to be concerned about the welfare of the souls of others. But we are also obliged to ensure our own soul is at rights with God: justified by His grace. The marriage union, the context of our parable today, comes about as we multiply throughout the world. It points us to the union in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary of God and Humanity: Jesus is true God and true Man; 100% divine 100% human. “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” says St Elizabeth (Luke 1:42). Our Lady’s womb is the place of redemption, of a coming together. God redeems that to which He unites Himself, our humanity, we ourselves.
Let’s have a revitalised sense of our relationship with God: He is our Father. We are His children. A key part of this Biblical image of the Father is that God cares for us. We heard Paul remind the Christians in Philippi: “God will fulfil all your needs in Christ Jesus as lavishly as only God can.” When we say something can’t be done; we limit God’s grace and accuse Him of stinginess. When we say we can’t love someone; we’re denying the power of God’s love at work in our lives. When we say we can’t forgive someone; we darken the light the Cross came to bring.
Know yourselves, my friends, to be held in the arms of God. You can’t fall from there. He’ll never drop you. This support goes with us in to the valley of darkness, our psalm reminded us. Paul writes his letter to the Philippians from a prison cell. A place of safety undoubtedly at one level! But his words of encouragement to the Philippians that they are to rejoice and that they must know the lavish care of the Father are therefore not exhortations to stay in safe places for fear that they might share the same fate of Paul, but rather to know that they don’t need to be afraid. Remember Isaiah 43:1 “Thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
God calls us, inviting us to join Him at a banquet, such as that described in our first reading from Isaiah 25, just like the King invites the guests to a wedding feast. We gather for Mass as a prefiguring of that banquet, in obedience to the Lord’s commands. That Christ gives us His flesh and blood reminds us of His paternal care. A popular Christian symbol is that of the pelican, who according to legend would peck at its own side to feed its young. It became a much-loved symbol for Christians as we behold God being nailed to the Cross that we might be free, that we might be fed. Christ offers us peace, my friends, peace in our relationship with the world He’s created; peace in our relationships with each other; peace in our knowing ourselves to be provided for by Him. Amen.