Trinity 17 BCP
30 September 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece
I was once upgraded on the Gatwick Express thanks to a friend. First class. Quite a big deal it was for me too, as it was the only time I’d ever been promoted up a ‘guest list’ – if such be the correct term for rail travellers from Victoria! But then, finally, earlier this year, I hit the jackpot onboard the plane back from Japan – invited to the almost empty business class seats, though with economy meals. Years ago people could angle for upgrades according to their attire and demeanour, and I had always assumed it best to be quiet, and just hope to be noticed. It didn’t work, and I’m told these days there is a huge amount of technical information, including points on this card, links with that alliance, regularity of travel etc. that account for most upgrades. But then there are always the flukes when a spare seat is left…when other factors come into play…the overly dramatised injuries…the crutches. Sometimes there are genuinely pressing reasons about the need for extra legroom. Having said that, as they approach their 30th wedding anniversary next week, I know my father and stepmother have frequently been on complimentary champagne during their trips…whenever they travel they seem to have myriad wedding anniversaries…and in months other than October! (Is it stretching it for every day to be a wedding anniversary?)
When Jesus says ‘Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted’ he seems to be talking about much more than blindingly obvious table etiquette, and the need for humility, in the hope of a divine upgrade. ‘Every one’ - the whole of humanity has 'exalted itself' by the sin of pride: that desire of Adam and Eve to be like God, a desire in which we have all shared. As a result of that sin, all have been humbled, cut off from God. So we all have exalted ourselves as we share in the sin of Adam. Whereas the ‘he who humbles himself’ might well refer deliberately to God who has humbled himself taking the form of a servant…God incarnate in Jesus Christ our Emmanuel…that singular just man who has humbled himself. Jesus Christ is the one who was lifted up high on the cross, and who has been exalted and gone up higher to the heights of heaven. And he invites all people, all sinners, to his feast, in order to lift us up from our sinful state, to redeem our human nature, and invite us to follow his example and partake of the heavenly banquet.
But the most beautiful words in today’s gospel are a gracious invitation: ‘friend go up higher’. It is Jesus who calls us friends. Not only in this parable, but on the night he was betrayed, at the height of his passion. Once we were fearful enemies without hope…now we are become friends. And we are invited, each of us, to go up higher, to fulfil that unique task we are given in life by God, and take that unique place at his table. Being thus bidden ‘friend go up higher’ is a reminder of our dignity, our value to God, our place at the top table. It also points to the hope of being transformed as we go up higher…to that ultimate destiny… which is life, abundantly and eternally. We are called out of ourselves, and out of darkness, and we are called to God, and into his marvellous light. Called to be exalted – in Christ.
We are reminded by St. Paul in the epistle regarding the nature of this vocation and the need to act ‘with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. And the strength and means so to do, is itself God’s gift – grace both goes in front of us, and follows us as the Collect has it. We pray that thy grace may always prevent and follow us. Pre-vent has nothing to do with hindering but rather a ‘coming before’: prae venire.
By the grace of God then, we are Christ’s friends and invited to go up higher. The Lord comes down to dwell with us where we are, but not just to leave us where we are. We so easily get stuck in the various ruts of our lives. We forget so easily the dynamic gospel of being transformed. He wants something better…he wants to raise us to where he is.
‘Lift up your hearts’ we sing later. As we worship, we join around the throne of glory, and join in the worship of the angles and saints. An appropriate reminder for us friends to go higher. Yesterday was the Feast of St. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael the Archangels and of all the angels – and on 2nd October is the feast of the Holy Guardian angels – God’s messengers appointed to guard and protect us from the foe malign. According to Christian tradition Michael is given four offices…and amongst them: To fight against the devil, helping to conquer evil…to rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, and especially at the hour of our death…and this points to his final task of calling away from earth and bringing souls to judgment. He is a messenger of light.
When I started out as a curate in Portsmouth an elderly priest friend always had a party around the time of the feast of the Guardian angels, and wonderfully personal invitations were sent out to all those whom he regarded as being angels to him – messengers of God’s love. It was a lovely way to mark the place important people had in his life. There are angels everywhere in the sense of being messengers of God’s goodness and calling us to go up higher. What are those Buddhist monks in Burma, inspiring and courageous in their witness, if not angels of light and hope…warriors of peace in the fight against tyranny and evil?
We are reminded then, both of the need to be on the side of the angels, and seek to be aware of opportunities to be angels to others who need our courage and support in their darker moments, as together we respond to the divine call to upgrade our whole lives: ‘friend go up higher’.