This Lent, our 5:45 Wednesday night program will be titled, “A Castle with no gate.” A Christian Community is like any other community, in that there are norms and boundaries that delineate out our common life. It might be likened to a castle. The difference between our community and other human communities is that the gate to the castle is always open and cannot be shut. God is always inviting all to deeper community. Over the course of Lent, this program will be examining the castle and the life within in the areas of Being, Praying, Living and Loving. I will be challenging us to look at our life together as a congregation less in terms of an organization, and more of a Community based in the ancient Christian spirituality of the Benedictines, which lies under the Anglican ethos. On the Sundays in Lent, My sermons will be presenting a series of stories that underly each one of these sessions. This first one simply sets the scene - the meaning of what the character sees and does will be laid out over the next several weeks.
The knight rode slowly up the winding road into the mountains. The clink of his chain mail and click of the hooves made their familiar rhythm on the worn path. He didn’t know how long he had been out in the wilderness at this point looking for the castle of renown, but it seems as if it had been forever. He rode lower in the saddle than he had years ago, and his trusted warhorse was starting to show its age. He was weary beyond fatigue. Soon, he hoped, they would be at the end of the quest. They moved over a gentle rise into a mountain pass, and all changed. There, in a cleft was a gentle green valley filled with human habitation. Here, at the nearest end of the valley, farm fields spread out with various crops. Further in, it appeared a village of goodly size was built. Beyond that, he thought he could make out a field covered with tents of various colors and types. At the end of the valley stood the castle itself, it’s towers and spires gleaming in the noonday sun, banners flying from its parapets.
Both the knight and his horse took courage from the sight, and they moved forward at a gentle trot, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Soon, they cleared the fields and moved into the village. The village itself was a strange place. It was well kept, ordered and filled with industry. In fact, it seemed to the knight that the people were a little TOO industrious. They hurried from place to place doing various tasks, barely noticing their neighbors as they pushed past each other. In the middle of the town, a jousting field had been set up, and a large line of knights in full plate arrayed themselves at either side of the list and took passes at each other in rapid succession. No one was in the observer stands. He paused and watched this for a little while, then attempted to engage several of the knights in conversation. They were all intensely focussed on their own preparations. No one seemed interested in talking about why things were being done this way, and when he mentioned the castle, they looked at him quizzically, even though the towers loomed at the end of the valley in plain sight.
He moved on out of the village into an area closer to the castle. In a large field, tents and temporary shelters of all kinds were erected. The were fine tournament tents of the nobility mixed with rough wattle-and-daub shelters that obviously belonged to people of lesser means. No one was in the shelters - they were all deserted.
The castle towered over the end of the valley, with impenetrable walls of fine stonework reaching high into the sky. Multiple towers broke the line of the walls, some of them ending in crenelated platforms, others in narrow spires. It was the most impressive castle the knight had ever seen, and seemed impossible to assault. Directly in the wall in front of him was one of the gatehouses. From what he could see, there were probably four total - one on each of the sides of the castle. The gate opening was huge and open. There was no moat, no drawbridge, no portcullis that the knight could see - nothing that would seal off the opening into the castle. A gentle, golden light diffused through the gate opening, which was empty. The area in front of the gate, however, was not.
The castle was surrounded by people, gathered near the gates. All sorts and means of people were gathered in huge numbers. There were noble ladies in fine gowns and fishwives in humble dress. There were other knights in full armor, tradesmen in merchant clothing, and serfs in peasant garb. They all stood silently, looking at the gate and not moving. Every once in a while, one of them would look as if they were ready to take a step forward, but then would seem to check themselves and pull back. The knight dismounted and slowly and carefully led his horse forward. He reached the front row of the motionless people, He hesitated. As he thought about entering the castle, a sense of unworthiness overtook him. He thought about the things he had done and the things he had left undone. They almost kept him from moving forward. But he had been questing too long, had invested too much to stop now. After a moment more of hesitation, he stepped forward.
After a few steps, he discerned that a shape was taking form in the golden haze of the gate, someone in the shape of a man. As the man drew closer, it was clear that this was no ordinary man. His face was both friendly and terrible, pleasant and frightening to look upon at the same time. Wisdom sat upon his brow, and understated power was in his hands. His raiment was cloth-of-gold, noble and shimmered in a manner that made him seem fey. The knight trembled as the man approached, but when the man spoke, all fear was removed. “Welcome, friend. We have been expecting you. Come into the castle. One quest is at an end, and the other is beginning.” He turned, and the knight followed him to the gatehouse.