A friend came over today and we read The Sermon On The Mount together. I’ve deliberately capitalised those words because it always blows me away, stuns me. Perfect, complete, clear and loving. Stunning. I mean, really, I don’t have the words to tell you how loved and cared for and guided I feel when I read those words. Words from Jesus, two thousand years ago, to me and you and everyone right now.
Every single time I read Matthew chapters 5 and 6 and 7 (and I read them often) I’m reminded of a morning about 5 years ago; it was a bright day, the beach was quiet, just the usual doggy tribe dotted around in the far distance. I was walking towards the rocks, wondering if the tide would let me walk beyond them to the smaller ‘secret’ beach beyond. I wasn’t aware of feeling lonely or sad, but on that wide quiet stretch of sand I was very conscious of my aloneness. It’s not the same as being lonely, but it’s a strong image of oneself, a solitary figure in a big wide world, for ever and ever, and it can be a little unsettling. Daunting. We whistle in the dark and say all the right things and smile and quote cheering verses, but sometimes we are just a bit daunted.
As I paddled in the sea’s edge I was holding a sort of free-form prayer conversation with God and I said something like ‘I wonder how long it is since I last held someone’s hand as we walked along together?” and then, as I said that, the real loneliness washed in. It was about 27 years since my husband died and even I could do the maths! But just as all those bright and cheerful and hopeful verses fell from my mind and the aloneness washed in, someone slipped a hand into mine. It was so sudden and unexpected that I was startled and turned to see who it was. No one. No one visible. But the hand was in mine, and I could feel the warmth of the skin, the unmistakeable structure of the hand, the grip gentle but real. Unmistakeable. Breath-taking. The hand stayed in mine for maybe ten steps, or as long as ten steps would have taken, because I think I stopped walking, I think I just stood there, savouring the touch, that gentle grasp, the sense of another. And then it was gone. He was gone. My God.
The simplicity and clarity of that small miracle will never leave me. It carries the same eternal message as the Sermon On The Mount, and when I read one I remember the other. They bring with them the music of eternity, the knowledge of God, the certainty of his love.
Jesus told us everything we could ever wish to know about the nature of our God in that one sermon. The rest of the Bible is confirmation of those truths. And we can be there, with him, Jesus, on that hillside, listening and wondering and just loving, loving, loving him. We can! All we have to do is turn to the pages. How could anyone read those words, or hear them, and not feel his love? And listen, listen, how could anyone – having read them once – not return to them again and again? They are so entire, so complete, so… I don’t have the word …. so ‘other’ that they call to me, flow over me, through me, lifting and feeding and warming me. Just like that unseen hand.
That’s why I read them over and over again.
The Sermon On The Mount is my companion, another hand in mine.