If we are to believe the idiom dictionary, then turning the tables as we hear it in regular use means being given the hand you dealt to your neighbour. Jesus on the other hand turns over the tables in the temple, not reversing the fortunes of those involved, but revealing the hand of the temple authorities to be as loaded dice. What do we make of these houses of prayer? Do we need to overturn the tables ourselves?
It is Lent, which means it is time for a film to help us through the wilderness. I prefer the title (in translation) “The Hidden Beauty.” But because this is hollywood, (with an all star cast, and a slating by the critics) It is called “Collateral Beauty.” A story of beauty and of pain. A story of an inner wilderness, the torment of a mind reconciling itself with life and all that it brings.
If you were to put pen to paper and write a letter, strange I know in this digital age, what would you write, and to whom would it be written? But if perhaps you were asked to write, not to a person, but to a thing, to an idea, a concept? To, say; Love, Death or Time. What then would you write? We long for Love. We fear Death. We wish we had more time. Love. Death. Time. These three abstract things bind everything and everyone together.
What would your love letter say? What would you want to say to that experience we call love? Would you write words of regret, an emotional outpouring or a letter full of the beauty of love at its purest if, that is, you have been so lucky to experience it. What would your love letter say?
What if you were to write to Death? Poetic words of bravado overcoming fear? Come unto me and take me from this mortal realm. Come close to me my old friend Death? Words of anger perhaps, hurt, pain for the loss of those taken untimely? Or words of fear of the unknown?
What if you were to write a letter to Time? Would it be a one word letter? Rewind? Or perhaps two, Slow Down? The alternative: Faster? Wanting to see beyond time unfolding? Would you write of the desire to see each moment for itself, captured like a snapshot on a camera or a smartphone. Moments to re-live in other moments. Or would you choose just one? Love. Death. Time.
Jesus was driven out into the wilderness… And he was with the wild beasts… And the angels waited on him. Three temptations then. The temptation of Love. We long for Love. To be loved, for what we do to be seen and admired. To seek out love in the wrong places and to mistake Agape or Phileo for Eros. To be loved, beyond who we are.
Temptation of Time – The desire for Time to run to our desires. To manipulate the natural course of a day to our whim. If only time would pass slower, quicker. Not enough or too much. Each day passing as if in the blink of an eye, or month or year passing as if they were ten of the same. If only we could see and live in each moment cherished as much as the last rather than chasing on to the next or longing for what is past.
Death – The desire to behave as if the rules do not apply to us or to those around us. The desire to control, to take control over that which is part of living. And when it comes unexpectedly, to wish it were not a part of life at all. Or to wish that death would come and take us from a life felt no longer worth living. To be tempted even to bring death upon ourselves to escape the torment of our own minds. Take then, death, my life, for it is all I have to give.
Three temptations. Love, Death, Time. In the biblical account: To have all power and authority. To have the angels save a leap into death. To turn stone into bread, manipulating the natural. Love. Death. Time. How are we to overcome these temptations, these seemingly basic human desires? To be loved beyond who we are. To fear death, to see it as something to be challenged and beaten. To wish for more time, to manipulate the natural. Jesus, we read, has been into these wilderness places before us, has challenged them and overcome them.
Worship the Lord and serve only him. Know that you too are made in God’s image, know your self worth and be humble in it.
Do not put God to the test. Do not worry about that which is out of reach.
Live in the light of life before death.
One does not live by bread alone. Resist the temptation to look beyond that which is here, now.
Counting not the passing days, but the beauty that each one brings.
With thanks to John Davies sermon on the horesemeat scandal. Published in ‘Devon Sermons’ available from the author.
If there were a flower for prophecy it
would be the snow-white bells arriving
early in time for Candlemas arrogant
even a brash flower cutting through the
cold earth it comes resilient, hardy.
Beauty beguiles its strength.
Amidst the darkness expectant of the
warmth to come our instinct is to light
candles. An incandescent dream.
Inefficient of light but life enough to stir
the soul into speaking. The snowdrop
harbinger of those who hear the silent
call to defiance of convention.