I should like a great lake of finest ale For the King of kings. I should like a table of the choicest food For the family of heaven. Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith, And the food be forgiving love. I should welcome the poor to my feast, For they are God's children. I should welcome the sick to my feast, For they are God's joy. Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place, And the sick dance with the angels. God bless the poor, God bless the sick, And bless our human race. God bless our food, God bless our drink, All homes, O God, embrace.
-Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, pp. 174-175
This is a prayer associated with Brigid, the abbess of an Irish monastery in the early 500s famous for its hospitality. This prayer reminds me of Lawrence of Rome, who, when asked in the persecution of 258 to surrender the riches of the church to the emperor Valerian, presented the poor, the crippled, and the widows, inviting the emperor to “Come out and see the wondrous riches of God.”
This kind of ancient Christian delight in the poor and the sick strikes me as very different from what I am used to hearing emphasized in my circles. And that makes me curious. Why might that be? What would it look like for us to not just teach a theology of suffering, but to have a culture and language that better reflects the “great reversal” that the New Testament so often speaks of?
In this new year, may our poor also sit with Jesus at the highest place, and our sick also dance with the angels.