Martha, Mary and Lazarus

Today the Church keeps the Memoria of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. It’s a day that holds special significance for Benedictines. There are two collects given for Mass in a supplementary book which is used for all things Benedictine.

Heavenly Father,
your Son was received
as an honoured and welcomed guest
in the home of Bethany,
keep us close to the Master
in our work and prayer,
that, blameless in his sight,
he may welcome us into his kingdom.

Heavenly Father,
your Son called Lazarus from the grave
and sat at table in the house of Bethany.
May we serve him faithfully in our brethren
and with Mary ponder and feed upon his word.

Between these two collects pretty much all the distinctive elements of Benedictine life are covered. Two phrases stand out for me: ‘honoured and welcomed’ and ‘ponder and feed’. If you have read anything about Benedictine Spirituality you will have a sense of the place which hospitality holds. I was struck today that it is more than just welcoming, it is showing a very particular kind of care, a care that reverences Christ in anyone who crosses the threshold. Ideally we take this attitude with us when we leave the monastery. So this honouring and welcoming can take place wherever we are: in the queue in the supermarket, waiting for the lift, crossing the road. The list is endless.

In the second collect I was struck by the coupling of ponder and feed. We are familiar with the idea of pondering on God’s Word, perhaps a little less so with the image of feeding on the Word. St Bernard explores this image in an Advent sermon:

Keep the word of God in the same way as you would preserve bodily food. For the word of God is a living bread and food for the mind. So long as earthly food is stored in a box it can be stolen or nibbled by mice or it can go bad if it is left too long. But if you eat the food you don’t have to worry about any of these.

This is the way to preserve God’s word; Blessed are they who keep it (Lk 11:28) Let it pass into the innards of your soul, then let it make its way into your feelings and into your behaviour. Eat well and your soul will delight in the abundance. Do not forget to eat your bread, lest your heart dry up, but let your soul be filled as with a banquet (Ps 101:5, Ps 62:6) If you thus keep the Word of God, you can be quite sure that it will keep you.

Sometimes the bread of God’s Word can seem dry and hard, sometimes is it light and sweet. Refusing to eat is not an option.

The image of friendship presented in the texts which mention Mary, Mary and Lazarus is not saccharine but real. The daily reality of walking the monastic path is anything but romantic. Sometimes there will be disagreements. This is brought out beautifully in an Anglican collect that I found:

God our Father,
whose Son enjoyed the love of his friends,
Mary, Mary and Lazarus,
in learning, argument and hospitality:
may we so rejoice in your love
that the world may come to know
the depths of your wisdom, the wonder of your compassion,
and your power to bring life out of death.

Sometimes arguments will be part of our path. Strong friendships can take the rough with the smooth. Martha, Mary and Lazarus incarnate for us this real friendship.

Bring to mind the friends who have been part of your journey.
Thank God for these.