Summary: A very personal experience
Each year in March Jill and I have a Continental holiday. Last year and this we revisited Malta and Gozo, two strange little islands – Malta with little beauty, but with tremendous history written in its buildings, Gozo much smaller and much greener with tremendous walking and swimming and diving, but little else to do.
If you really want to get the feel of what these islands are like I suggest you read Nicholas Monserrat’s novel called “The Kappilan of Malta”. Though its mainly fiction it’s also based on fact. The fact of what the Germans did to the island because of its strategic position at the heart of the Mediterranean sea, of the bombing and the effect it had on the morale of its people – and of the Priest, the little Kappilan. who lived with and loved his people and encouraged them to stand fast as their ancestors had done when they too had faced destruction at the hands of other invaders.
As I say it’s a strange island, very tatty in many areas, but what sets it apart from many other holiday destinations is the Christian faith of its people. Our four visits to Malta have always introduced us to new experiences and new ideas which have hit home and stayed with us on our return. For example, last year we tried to visit as many of the cultural sites in the three weeks we were there, and one event we attended continues to stand out in our memory. At the entrance to the Capital City of Valletta there are two Bastions once occupied as fortresses by the Knights of St. John – one of those Bastions, the Bastion of St. John, is a huge hall which the warriors used in their fight against the Turkish invaders It’s much as it was in the 14th Century, but the other, the Bastion of St. James has been transformed into a cultural centre. For exhibitions of paintings and photography, with a cinema and a Theatre. And that’s where we went one night for a performance of “Godspell”.
It had a young cast, boys and girls mainly in their teens and early 20’s, but with some older people to maintain the more demanding parts, with a very powerful Jesus, a man in his 50’s I’d say, who was full of joy and vitality. We saw and heard Jesus’ from the time of His Baptism right through to His death and the hint of His Resurrection.…….. but there was just one problem! The theatre was in the round, by which I mean that the stage was in the very centre of the theatre with seating on three sides, just as it is here in Church, only more so. We had booked seats in the balcony, and because of the way they had positioned the seats with screens right in front of us, we couldn’t see very much of what was going on, and because of my deafness I had difficulty in hearing too. What I did notice was that there were quite a number of vacant seats downstairs, so, when we came to the interva I went downstairs and said to the lady who’d taken our tickets, “Do you think we could come down from the blacony and sit in some of these vacant seats”. “I can’t make that decision” she said, “You’d better go and have a word with the Producer”. I asked who he was and she pointed to “Jesus” – he was the Producer. So I went up to “Jesus” and told him about my problem, how we couldn’t see and couldn’t hear, and could we move downstairs and sit in the vacant seats”………………. He looked at me, and with a twinkle in His eye he said, “Of course you can, Friend GO DOWN LOWER!”.
I THOUGHT ABOUT OUR VISIT TO Malta and to “Godspell” this week as I read the Gospel for today, the story of Jesus visit to a Pharisee’s House, and how lots of guests were competing to get the chief seats, so Jesus told a parable “When you are invited to a wedding, don’t go and sit down in the best seats when you get in, in case someone with more standing than you comes and you’re told by the Host, “Make room for this man” and you’re forced to go and sit in the lowest place of all – “No! when you’re invited go and sit in the lowest place of all, so that the Host can come and say to you, “FRIEND GO UP HIGHER”, AND EVERYONE WILL SEE HOW GREATLY HE VALUES YOU”.
And, as I thought about it I remembered our experience in the 2nd half of that Play, as we now sat in a seat right in the centre of the action. It was the Last Supper, and Jesus knew that He was going to die, and who was going to force that death upon Him. Jesus came to them, one by one, looked them in the eye one by one, and reached out to embrace them one by one, even JUDAS, with love and forgiveness knowing that ONE BY ONE, EACH ONE OF THEM would THAT VERY NIGHT betray Him, each in their own way. And as He passed in front of me, an onlooker, His eyes were filled with such love that I wanted to cry out “Yes, Jesus, I have betrayed you too, but love me and forgive me, and wrap your arms around me too, as you are doing with all the others”. Of course this man was only an actor, and not Jesus, but that night I felt that Jesus, the Risen Jesus had come to me that night in this man who was an ACTOR and DID EMBRACE ME AND LOVE ME AND FORGIVE ME,, and was saying to me. “YOU ARE FORGIVEN AND YOU TOO ARE MINE”.