“Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Isaac Watts, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Friday, 30 October 2020
The third ministry that Bonhoeffer recommends to us is to be there for others. This means accepting that the other person, whoever they might be, has a claim on our time, our person and our energy. No matter who they are. Simply because they are made in the image of God, as a work of God’s love, we are all interconnected.
Every Christian should sense that other people have a claim on their time and energies because we are knit together in the Body of Christ. To be addressed by another person is to be addressed in some sense by the God whose image they bear.
This picks up on a rather wonderful image, expressed in the Rule of St Benedict. Benedict reminds his hearers that in greeting and hosting the least of God’s children, many have entertained angels unawares. It’s a beautiful phrase often depicted in that wonderful icon of Rublev’s Trinity (also called The Hospitality of Abraham). But we forget that it has a very straightforward meaning too. Abraham offers hospitality. In doing so, he entertains angels unawares, and indeed perhaps entertains the very life of God unawares. We’re also reminded that Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the least of his children, we do to Christ himself.
Do we take time to be there for others? Do we set aside time to accompany others, especially if we think they’re encountering difficulty? And do we maintain that discipline, even if we feel that spending time with them will not be particularly productive or useful in comparison with all the other stuff that we have lined up on our schedules or timetables? We might just be entertaining angels unawares.
And if we do this, then we will also sense that another person’s burden is also ours. This is the fourth ministry Bonhoeffer recommends, to bear each other’s burdens.
If we can perform these ministries we will find that we can love our neighbour and in so doing love God. We will also find that we can love ourselves as God loves us, which is the completion of Bernard of Clairvaux’s progress of love.