This is the last story for our Lenten series. It is on the theme of Loving. The previous sermons are linked at the bottom of this article.
As they strode towards the armory , the knight thought about his time in the Castle. how long had it been? Weeks? Months? Years? It had been a time of being stretched way beyond his areas of comfort. For one who had been trained for war, the disciplines of the castle had been so different. He had been forced to confront all of the ideas his birth, upbringing, and training had impressed upon him. The assumptions he had brought of the world due to his class and profession - of his own superiority - had been shattered like glass. Walking next to him was the kitchen maid. She had also faced a similar stretching, finding her own self-worth and struggling to convince herself that people needed to hear her voice. She now spoke up in conversations rather than demurely assuming her opinions were of little worth. The two had become unlikely friends in the Guild Hall. Stripped of class distinction and trained to listen and speak, they now saw each other as equal servants of their Courteous Lord, though their functions in the household differed.
In the armory, the Knight stood with his mouth agape. He had actually been looking forward to this - something familiar and grounded in his upbringing. But this didn't look like an armory at all. Instead of rows of armor and helmets, swords and pole arms, it was full of common stuff. Blankets, clothing, foodstuffs, even an area with coin in careful stacks. The maid looked at the knight and laughed in sympathy with her friend's bemusement. "You expected a worldly armory, didn't you? But this is the armory of our Lord." "Yes." And he laughed at himself, "Nothing is ever what we expect here, is it? But of course, the armory of our Lord would be filled with instruments of comfort, rather than that of harm." A portly man approached them, "Ready to sally forth, are we? I assume your guides have sent you?" "They have," replied the maid, "But what are we to take, and what are we to do?" "As for what you are to do, that will become apparent when you leave the castle. As for what you are to take, use the equipment you are most skilled with."
The Maid looked around the armory, passing between rows of goods. Finally, her eyes alighted on a set of cookware. Beautiful and gleaming, they looked finer than anything she had ever used. These were not the instruments of kitchen drudgery, but objects of art made to give comfort. She picked them up and put them into a sack, then went to the foodstuffs and took several staples and a selection of savory spices. Meanwhile, the Knight had passed through the armory and come to stand before the exchequer's table with the stacked coin. He looked at them in a different way than he ever had before. In the world, he had seen coin as a way to guard security or to provide personal pleasure. Now as he looked at the table, he saw them as gifts from his Courteous Lord, intended to provide relief and build places of refuge. The armorer came to stand beside him, "Take as much as you think you will need. You are a trusted servant of our Lord." The Knight pondered, then swept one coin into a purse. The armorer smiled, "Good. You take what is needed, not more. You learned well the lessons of the Guild Hall."
The two friends stood at the small sally port in the armory. The armorer unbarred it and opened it for them. "Do your work in the name of our Lord. Do it well and with compassion. Return when you require respite or refreshment. You are of both the castle and the world now." The Knight and the Maid instinctively clasped hands and stepped outside.
It was a beautiful spring day, and they stood outside the castle near the Emerald gate. Hundreds stood rooted, looking into the gates. Others wandered listlessly from gate to gate, peering in each one inquisitively. The friends headed back down the valley. As they reached the field full of tents, a light moaning could be heard emanating from one of the splendid pavilions. The Maid looked at the Knight knowingly, then headed towards the entrance to the tent.
The Knight continued to walk into the village. As before, everyone pushed past, but no one stopped to talk or even acknowledge him. He made his way to the tilt-yard. The constant tournament continued, with knights breaking lance after lance on each other. The Knight watched for several hours. Every once in a while, a knight would be unhorsed. That knight would then beckon to his squire to come forward with a purse and pay a single coin to the victor. As he watched, a contestant was struck from the saddle and collapsed on the ground. When the herald of the lists stepped up to him, he shook his head sadly. The herald made a motion, and two men-at-arms stepped into the list and took him by the arms, dragging him towards a stone building at the far end of the field. The Knight followed with interest.
The building was a Gaol, made of stone and with windows for each cell that were barred. As he watched, the men-at-arms took the defeated knight and placed him in a cell, where he went to the barred window. Most of the cells had defeated knights in them, and they all stood at the windows, yelling as victorious knights galloped past, challenging them to pay their coin and meet them on the field. As he walked past, he noticed one cell with a defeated knight in it who did not stand at the window, but only sat on his pallet and stared at the wall. "Good Sir. Why don't you stand and challenge the victorious knights as the others do?" "I used to," said the defeated knight, "but there's no point. Very seldom is one freed when there are more lucrative battles to be had with others. Besides, I no longer wish to fight." "What is it you wish to do?" The defeated knight rose and came to the window and stared at the castle in the distance. "I wish to go to the Castle. When I came here, I went to the field and stood for two days wishing to enter the gate, but the idea of no longer being a noble with servants under me made me unable to take the step. I finally turned in despair and came here, where I could indulge in that pointless game out there. " He gestured to the tilt-field. "Although I was proud, I was never particularly good at jousting. My money got me so far - several weeks - but I have been here for the past two months. After the first month, I stopped challenging passing knights. After six weeks, I seemed to come to myself, and noticed the Castle in the distance again. Now I long to go there, but I am a captive of my own pride and folly. I deserve my state, but how I wish it were different." The Knight surveyed him carefully, then reached into his purse, drawing out the single coin. "Here is your freedom." The defeated knight looked at the coin in his hand incredulously. "And who are you, Sir Knight, that I may thank you?" "My identity is not important, but I free you in the name of The Lord of the Castle. He bids you come and be his servant as well." That afternoon, the Knight of the Castle led the defeated knight back through the village, the field, and up through the gate of the castle. Celebrations broke out throughout the Castle as the news spread.
The maid walked to the entrance of the tent. "Excuse me." She called, "May I come in?" There was no answer. She remembered her Lord and boldly walked in. The inside of the pavilion was squalid. On a pallet in the corner lay an older noble lady, dressed in what must have been fine clothing once. "Go away," she croaked, and rolled onto her side facing away from the Maid. "I'm here to be of service. What ails you?" The lady rolled back over. "I stood day by day in front of those castle gates for years, never able to gather up the courage to step in. Every time I try to take the step, I'm held back by shame." "Shame? What could be so bad as to keep you out for so long?" The lady winced. "I was a horrid person. Outside the valley, I was a countess, and I lived an opulent life. I took my position for granted and the people around me even more so. I was especially horrid to the kitchen staff. I would send back dishes repeatedly if I didn't think they were perfect and ordered punishments for repeated mistakes. When I heard about the Castle, I was intrigued and packed my entire household to come here. In my pride, I thought the Lord of such a castle would ride out to meet me. When he didn't, I joined the seekers around the Castle, thinking I would surely be able to get in. Every time I tried to take a step towards the gate, I would be reminded of something particularly nasty I had said or done to one of my servants and be unable to finish. After a couple of years, I couldn't even look my remaining servants in the face and dismissed the last one. I haven't been back to try to get into the castle since then." "So you have no one here with you?" "No. I don't deserve company." "And what have you eaten?" The woman pointed at a loaf of moldy bread that was almost out. "My last servant, a sweet girl, left me that when I dismissed her. I couldn't even thank her in my misery." "I will return" said the maid. She turned and went outside, finding the fire ring. The servants had left some wood and kindling, so she soon had a fire going. She pulled out her cookware and supplies from the Castle and soon had a savory dish of potatoes and beef broth cooking. Finishing, she put some of the prepared dish into a bowl and took it inside to the woman. The woman looked at her incredulously. "Why did you cook for me? You're not my servant." "No, I'm the servant of The Lord of the Castle. I cook for whom he desires me to, and that is you." "But I've never met your Lord." "You've met him through me." The woman looked longingly at the dish. The Maid pushed it towards her. "Go ahead, take and eat."
The Maid tended to the woman for several days, watching her strength and manner improve. She cleaned and laundered, remembering, as she had been taught in the Guild Hall, that every time she did it, she did it for her Lord. Soon the pavilion was well-kept again. As they days passed, the woman wanted to know more about her, and the Maid told her about her former life in the kitchens of the baron and her new life in the castle. After a week had passed, the Maid said to the lady, "I need to return to the castle, and I want you to come with me." The lady paled. "I'm not sure I can do that. So many years of shame and hesitation outside the gates. I can't take that happening again." The Maid reached out and took her hand. "This time, it will be different. I will be with you." The lady considered for a moment, then nodded.
When they reached the gates, the lady stopped, transfixed by a bad memory, overcome with remorse. Then she turned and looked at the Maid, smiled, and stepped forward. As they both approached the gate, the Maid kept waiting for a guide to come and meet them, but no one appeared. Finally, when they reached the gatehouse, the Maid saw her guide waiting there with a large smile on her face. "I kept waiting for you to come out to guide us." said the Maid. "There was no need," said the woman. "You are her guide now." She turned to the lady. "Welcome, sister, to the castle. We have waited long for you to join us. When you faltered, we sent out our very best to guide you." The three women moved into the gatehouse to allow the lady to have her first glimpse of the valley and the castle. And there at the top of the gatehouse stairs, the Knight of the Castle welcomed them both, beaming from ear to ear.
From holy scripture:
Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.
Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.