In this season of Lent Christians look towards the cross, the place where God most fully demonstrates his love for his world.
But though a sign of love for Christians, the cross has often been wrongly used to generate emotions which get in the way of our coming to God: guilt, shame, unworthiness, self-blame.
It may help to recall the one thing which Jesus leaves his friends before he goes to the cross. Not rules, not a list of instructions, not even a religion, but a meal:
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'
A meal is a place where relationship is made and strengthened. A meal is a sign of welcome, acceptance and belonging. A meal is an act of equality and of healing, both for body and soul.
A meal cannot be forced or enjoyed under pressure; it is always an invitation. And there are many in 21st society whose lives are tired and bruised from having been mistrusted, betrayed or forgotten and who are seeking healing, welcome and acceptance. There are many who feel, through experience or intuition, that church does not welcome them, or that God is not interested in them or that faith is not possible. Where is their place at the table? Who is preparing the meal to which they are invited?
And what of you and I? Perhaps we are among this number, sharing some of these feelings. Perhaps we, too, need to hear the invitation which followers of Jesus have listened for down the ages. Or perhaps we simply need to be reminded of that invitation so that we can learn again how to offer it to others.
The poem 'Love' speaks beautifully of invitation and welcome. It is an encounter between the character of Love which is, perhaps, the figure of Christ, and a guest who seeks a welcome. As the poem unfolds, the guest cannot help but feel that she is not worthy to be present at the meal. Surely there is some great sin which means that she should be turned away?
But, no. Love will not hear of it and Love can see only the guest's need of rest and of refreshment. It can be our welcome, too, if we will accept it.
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 answered, 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.