Yesterday, Yvonne asked us what lifts our spirits – well, this window once lifted mine! Any guesses where you’d find it?
It’s the huge east window in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Buckfast Abbey in Devon. Buckfast is a working Benedictine monastery set in a beautiful wooded valley beside the River Dart – and in non-pandemic times, it’s open to visitors.
I’ve only ever been there once, a long, long time ago – I must have been about 7. We were on a family holiday at Pentewan Sands and visited Buckfast for a day out. I don’t remember much about it, other than this window. It’s set at one end of the chapel and takes up the entire wall. The walls on either side of the room are also set with stained glass, as you can see in this tiny photo. It was a glorious sunny day outside and the sun was streaming through all the stained glass, and the chapel was cool and calm and peaceful.
I was awestruck. I sat in one of the wooden pews and just gazed at it. Something about the window – the colours, the kindness in Jesus’ face, the open hands – drew me in. I felt like I’d walked into the room and found him there, waiting for me. I sat there for the longest time – eventually my mum had to make me leave as everyone else was bored of waiting for me. I bought a postcard of the window in the gift shop – I used to carry it round in my Bible, now it’s in a frame in my house.
I don’t know whether you noticed, but just in front of the window – the image of Jesus with open hands, bread and wine – is the altar or Communion table. It’s a funny thing, Communion, isn’t it? Different Christian traditions have different names for it, different rules about how to take it and who can take it and who can give it. Different sets of guidance on how the theology of it must be interpreted and understood. Yet in its first incarnation, it was ‘just’ Jesus, sitting round a table with his friends, and inviting them to take part in something and remember him in a way they didn’t yet understand…
Then there’s the story of the Great Banquet which has so much to tell us about who God’s table is open to. God’s feast is a feast of open invitation – it is not for us to decide whether it is important enough for us to give it our attention; nor is it for us to decide how widely the invitation should be thrown open – “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. … Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” The table is indiscriminate, open to all.
Then there’s the image of the Body of Christ, which Paul writes about – “The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” … the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honoured, every part shares in its joy.”
And then there’s Ascension Day, when Jesus prepares his disciples to take his good news far beyond the borders of their comfort zone… “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth…”
However hard we try, there is always further to go in developing our understanding of just how open God’s table is; of just how wide Jesus’s hands reach out. It is always worth reminding ourselves that it is not our place to decide where lines should be drawn, who is worth keeping in and who can be kept out without it making an impact.
Who does God want us to reach out to today? Who do we need to remember to include, to open up to, to see the value in? How can we challenge our own thinking about who is in and who is out – and whether there even IS a boundary between in and out? Take a moment to hear God now…
I’ve never forgotten the Jesus that I found in that window… Before the story of the Great Banquet had even entered my frame of reference; before I was old enough to be allowed a taste of Holy Communion – there he was. Jesus, with open hands, inviting us to a table that is far more open than we could ever comprehend… May he always be with us.
Have a great afternoon, Zephyrs…