You pass by this scene every day on your walk to work:
Candles flicker on the stone step outside the door. String lights swoop toward the center of the ceiling. Waiters place hors d’oeuvres onto tables sparkling with goblets and silver. You catch whiffs of expensive cologne, alfredo, lemon, basil, coffee.
You peer into the banquet room and linger in its fragrance for a couple seconds. But you never step further because you know you could never eat there.
It’s way too expensive.
I’m alone and it’s a place for couples.
I wouldn’t know what to do with all those forks and spoons.
My clothes smell like work.
This banquet and this hesitating is the setting for George Herbert’s poem called “Love.” The poem is a story recounting the exchange between Love and a soul. Each of us can read it in the first person, first placing our souls at the banquet door. (The words in parentheses are my responses.)
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin. (My clothes smell like work.)
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in, (He saw me every time I lingered outside the door.)
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’ (Me? No, you can’t mean me.)
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’ (You are very kind, but I don’t belong here.)
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made thine eyes but I?’ (Hmmmm. He made this banquet—He even made me.)
‘Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’ (He says He made me worthy of this feast. He wants me here!)
‘My dear, then I will serve.’ (No, no—I won’t eat. You are my master. I’ll be your waiter tonight.)
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my Meat.’ (‘Says’ is present tense: He is still speaking!)
So I did sit and eat.
As we read George Herbert’s lines, we see that he knows how to be proper, dutiful, and fair. He knows about protocol and propriety to maintain at all costs. When Love pronounces him as the worthy guest of the feast, Herbert is incredulous and gives reasons why he can’t possibly accept. Sounds familiar, right?
When Love invites us to His feast, we learn, like Herbert did, that love is not a place, or a feeling, or a flavor. Love is a person, and His name is Jesus. Hearing His voice and seeing His eyes is the best thing that could ever, ever happen to us. And the banquet never, ever ends.
*****This is the final in a series of 4 weekly devotionals that I’ve written for the lovely Daughters of Promise. Sign up here to get all of them in your inbox every Monday from now on!