I took the path across the water meadows just beyond the city of Salisbury until I came to the Old Mill at the nearby village of Harnham.
Beside the mill there is a weir down which water gushes in a mesmerising sort of way.
At the top of the weir was one of the most beautiful swans I had ever seen, whilst down at the bottom other swans looked up at their companion, as if willing her to come down on the cascading water and join them.
She stretched her neck as far as she could, leaning in to the water below, and she tried to raise her glorious body over the thin metal girder protruding in her way, but try as shemight she could not take the plunge remained marooned at the top of the weir.
Swans are the epitome of grace, gliding with poise and elegance through their lives, and maybe our faith, at its best, mirrors something like that.
That if we can somehow give ourselves up to the stream of His grace, revealed in Jesus, and given to us now through the life of the Spirit. We can grow immeasurably – in faith, hope and love.
But like that swan, sometimes we simply can’t lean in to God far enough, and as a consequence, we feel our lives distanced from one another, and from what God would have us be.
Our two readings give stark examples of what can happen if we find ourselves marooned away from grace and then what might happen if, in the end, we can come cascading down upon its strength and let it immerse us.
Sometimes Pontius Pilate is portrayed as nothing more than a weak fool. Easily threatened by authority figures and having little mind of his own. In those Gospel rock musicals of the 1970’s he comes across as a laughable character. A sort of camp Elvis Presley figure, I seem to remember.
But there is nothing funny about what we hear happening in the opening verses of the Gospel reading. It seems as if, for no apparent reason, Pilate has just gone out and murdered a group of Galileans who were probably just making pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And Pilate mixes their blood with the temple sacrifices, something abhorrent to the religious of the day.
Passed off in just one verse of scripture, it is an example of nothing less than state sanctioned terrorism, the slaughter of innocent people for no apparent reason, other than for the perpetrator to flex his brutal muscles with misguided power.
As with last week’s readings – we recognise this in our day, we recognise it very clearly indeed.
When muscles are flexed with a power we do not own, – it doesn’t matter if we are a brutal dictator or if it’s the consequence of a personal struggle we have. There is no grading of sinfulness. Whatever causes us to stay at the top of the weir – the God given grace in our lives remains suppressed.
And our Old testament reading begins to show us how such a new grace filled life may take shape.
What is described in Isaiah is an invitation to a feast – the sort actually given by a new king when he claims the throne and wants to herald a fresh start with his people. It is what is offered to us by Jesus.
When we give up of any personal claim to power and let that power be – God’s gift.
And in that reading more poignant words of what this will lead to:
See you shall call nations that do not know you and nations that do not know you shall come running to you – because of the Lord your God.
As if those whose homelands have become war torn and who have found themselves threatened by wickedness – will search out a place of goodness, not just where there is more economic prosperity – but because we discover an undercurrent of a grace that flows deeper than that.
As with last week’s readings – we recognise this in our day as we witness millions fleeing away from their homeland and away from families that once held one another closely.
A life caught up in sin – that leaves us marooned at the top of the weir – means we feel better keeping a distance one from another.
A life that recognises our short comings and can trust them to God – opens up space for others to inhabit right along side of us.
But I hear you saying – in fact I want to acknowledge this myself – that all sounds fine – but like that swan I just can’t get over the metal girder that is preventing me from moving forwards.
What we must do is lean in to God’s grace rather more than you do.
And I was led to think of John, the beloved disciple, who never really said much – but was always there or there abouts with Jesus.
And there is the lovely image of the Last Supper as portrayed in John’s Gospel – where the disciples are reclining with Jesus at the supper table – but John leans in right up close to Jesus and presses his head against his master’s breast. A sign of great loving, of total dependency, of yearning to do more and be better – but just not able to get there – without physically leaning in on Christ.
At Jesus’s death, it is that disciple, and no other, along with Mary His Mother , who makes it out to Calvary and witnesses first hand the way in which Jesus takes grace to the places we can’t get to – teaching us that we don’t have to strive against the odds and just make ourselves feel even more hopeless – it is from leaning in to his passion – and hearing the words of love and forgiveness uttered there, that we find the way forward.
His grace is whispered in many and varying places in our world today – often in contrast to the shouts of aggressors.
Lean in to that grace.
These are the days in which to tune in to the many places where his grace is waiting for you and a world yearns for its outpouring.
LUKE 13: 1-9