The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
Christ Church, Windsor Nova Scotia, AD 2004
“Everything is ready”
is ready”, it seems but are we? What does it mean to be ready for the
banquet, for the wedding feast? What, indeed, is the wedding garment
without which, it seems, we are not ready; without which, it seems, we are
out even when we think we are in; without which, it seems, we shall be
“cast into outer darkness” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing
The times are
never so bad that a good man cannot live in them. The quality of the times
in which we live cannot be the measure of virtue and character. No. It is
rather the setting in which virtue is shown and character is proved. The
question for Christians “at all times and in all places” is whether
we will be defined by circumstances or defined by grace. By grace, we mean
the highest perfection of human virtue which is God’s work in us and for us,
come what may in the world around us.
One thinks, for
instance, of an Augustine, dying in his Episcopal see of Hippo Regius in 430
AD, even as the armies of the Vandals were besieging the city, about to
obliterate what had been the work of a life-time in the formation of
Christian souls. It was the first of a series of invasions that would
virtually obliterate any trace of North African Christianity. It was to
survive principally in the writings of its theologians, chief of whom was
Or one thinks,
perhaps, of a Dante, cast out of his beloved city of Florence and into the
dark wood of exile. And yet, in spite of his exile, or, it is, perhaps, not
too much to say, because of his exile, he produced the greatest epic poem of
Christian pilgrimage, The Divine Comedy, “to lead
those”, as he says, “in a state of misery to the state of felicity”.
perhaps, is best summed up in Shakespeare’s As You Like It,
where the Duke, exiled to the forests of Arden, poignantly, if not a little
are the uses of adversity;
like the toad, ugly and venomous
yet a precious jewel in his head;
our life, exempt from public haunt
tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
in stones, and good in everything.
How hard and
yet how necessary to know the “good in everything” and even, that
“sweet are the uses of adversity”. And yet, it was in the dark wood,
Dante tells us, the dark wood of the world’s adversity and the soul’s
perplexity, that he learned a great good.
The alarms and
the adversities of our day, politically and ecclesiastically, rightly arrest
our attention. The great biblical scholar Jerome, responsible for the
Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible (so formative
for Western Christianity right up to and including The Book of
Common Prayer, as, for instance, in the Latin titles that adorn
the Psalms), contemplating the sack of Rome in 410 AD by Alaric the
Ostrogoth, wrote that “the mind shudders at the thought of the ruin of
our age”. The mind shudders. It is not simply shattered. Rather it is
shaken into thought upon the greater mystery and wonder of God’s
Providence at work in and through the follies and foibles of our humanity
however distraught and in disarray.
To be defined
by the circumstances of our day is to choose Fortuna, that ancient
goddess of blind chance, Lady Luck. She, of course, goes merrily and gaily
on her way, favouring first one and then another, but leaving so many more
in the ruin of her train. You see, she doesn’t care. She goes merrily on
her way. The wheel turns and we are either lifted up or crushed below. If
we choose to follow the revolving wheel of fortune and happenstance,
going with the flow, as it is commonly said, then we shall be broken
upon the wheel of her indifference, broken as much inwardly as outwardly.
And yet, perhaps, that may be the awakening of the mind to the Providence of
For God does
care and, ultimately, even the adversities in our affairs belong to the
lessons of his care, tough lessons though they may be. They may be learned
from the pageant of history, from the poets, and from the parade of our own
experiences. But surely they are best learned through the light of his Word
illuminating a way of understanding.
We have spoken
about Augustine, Jerome, Dante and Shakespeare. But there are a host of
others who also bear testimony to the Providence of God and the readying of
the soul for the things of God in the face of crisis and adversities.
William Nicholson, born in the late sixteenth century, was deprived of his
living as an Anglican Priest during the interregnum – the English Civil War
period in the mid-seventeenth century – and survived by teaching school.
The Prayer Book, too, was banned. But at the restoration in 1660, what did
a William Nicholson do? It was not only that he was made Bishop of
Gloucester but he undertook to write An Exposition on the Catechism.
He recognized that after such a ruinous time what was needed was precisely a
return to foundational principles of our lives in Faith. What could be more
foundational than the Catechism which seeks to create a resonance in us of
God’s Word and Son? The Prayer Book catechism is almost unique for its
liturgical character, its brevity and its strong insistence on the doctrinal
basics of the Faith and our identity in the Faith. And such we may say is
an illustration of the Providence of God for us readying our souls for the
things of God in good times and bad.
Christ, the Providence of God is written out for us to read most clearly and
most dramatically. He is, we might say, the mind of God’s Providence, the
Word and Son of the Father who “came unto his own and his own received
him not”. The parable in today’s gospel is a parable of the gospel
itself. Jesus shows us a picture of our indifference to his love, to his
good for us, but only so as to shake us into readiness and preparation.
What, then, is
the wedding-garment? It is nothing less than the charity of God in the
sacrifice of Christ. The wedding-garment is Christ Jesus, “Put ye on the
Lord Jesus Christ”. Our preparation is our full yearning for his love.
It includes and, indeed, demands our full-hearted repentance.
For what is
this marriage-feast in the parable? Surely, it is the marriage of heaven
and earth, the union of God and man in Christ Jesus. It signifies his whole
incarnate life – the preparations for his coming and our refusings, his
coming and our callous disregard. But the parable is told to make us ready
“both in body and soul”, to shake us into thought and action.
“Everything is ready” and he would have us ready too, ready and prepared
to enter into everything which he, in his Providence, has prepared for us.
“Everything is ready” and God would make us ready, too. He is, after
all, “the good in everything”.
“Everything is ready”