- Worship & Ministry »
- Reflection »
- Music »
- Visit Us »
- INSPIRE! Appeal » Listen Online
Luke 14: 7-11
7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them.
8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;
9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.
10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.
11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." That's the opening line of Jacques speech in Shakespeare's As you Like it. He goes on to describe the seven ages of man as a journey from infancy to old age and then "mere oblivion".
This image of the journey, of being on the way, trying to make sense of this confusing world and yet being bound together as we travel along, is one that has always spoken powerfully to me. And I suppose particularly so when you reach a milestone in life, as Rosemary and I do today as we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.
I'm not sure in Shakespeare's terms whether we've reached the 5th or 6th stage and I won't presume to speak for Rosemary, but whichever it is Shakespeare takes it for granted that life is a one-way street, a journey punctuated by different stages, each involving a certain amount of letting-go of the past, as well as looking ahead to the future: and we do so in each other's company, side by side.
And it's particularly good to welcome today someone who is celebrating the first stage, Winifred Parker, "Mewling and puking in her nurse's arms", as she comes to her baptism and with her we look ahead with hope to the future.
But today, I'm a bit obsessed with the number 40, for obvious and sentimental reasons. Now four is a sacred number the world over- and forty is also a significant sacred number. It's used as a long period for human existence of endurance. The Forty year reigns of David and Solomon were seen as proof of divine favour. 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in the wilderness, and for 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert. 40 years was considered the approximate length of a generation.
Perhaps that's why Alan Bennett called his first West End play 40 years on- Set in an English Public School called Albion House. It's a play within a play- an end of term production for staff and parents, about the changes that had happened over the forty years since the end of the First World War. It provokes shock and outrage from the Headmaster, but beyond the parody is a longing, a nostalgia for a more peaceful age and an England gone for ever.
So Forty Years On, in a marriage, in a family, in a friendship, in the life of a church or a community, do we just look back with nostalgia, saying "It wasn't like that in our day", or "I wish we could recapture what it was like then", I hope not. I certainly look back with enormous thankfulness for the gift of love from Rosemary and all my family. But I also, as I hope we all do, look forward with hope and expectation and excitement to what is yet to be.
And how lovely is the presence of little Winifred this morning- a reminder of that, because for her life is just beginning and it's all ahead of her to be seized and enjoyed.
As the writer of Proverbs says "Let your eyes look straight before you, fix your gaze upon what lies ahead." (4:25)
So forty years on, no regrets, no mere nostalgia, no denigration of the present because of a rose-tinted view of the past- but much, much thankfulness, and a firm hope for the future, trusting that Jesus Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega of the journey, the beginning and the end, is our companion along the way, whatever stage, in Shakespeare's terms, of that journey we have reached.
In the words of a former UN secretary General Dag Hammerskjold:-
"For all that has been-thanks.
For all that shall be-YES!"