ÂWhatÂs in a name?Â Well, for some of us there is quite a lot in a name. I was, for example, extremely pleased to be serving in a church in my last parish which was dedicated to St John the Evangelist. Like many I find his gospel a never ending source of spiritual nourishment and revelation. Before that church I had served in two churches in succession whose dedication was to St Andrew. I could never get quite as excited about St Andrew as St John the Evangelist, but at least he was an apostle and as I got to know Andrew and preached about him on patronal festivals, I grew to love this seemingly modest man who was the first of the disciples to meet Jesus, introduced others, including his brother, Peter, to him; and managed to assist in solving a food crisis by introducing Jesus to a young chap who had two small fish and five loaves!
You will realise from all this that the name of the church I am serving in has quite a lot of meaning for me. So to be quite honest I was disappointed when I learnt that the chapel at Launde Abbey is dedicated to St John the Baptist. Although an essential character in his story even Jesus says that,
Â the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (John). (Matt 11:11)
The Baptist never knows Jesus in the way the other disciples know him. He stands as the last of the prophets in the Old Testament line and never lives to see JesusÂ saving work. So why was Launde Abbey chapel named after someone who never really knew Jesus? I didnÂt get it.
But lately I have had an epiphany. There could hardly be a better dedication for the chapel of a retreat house than that of John the Baptist. The role of John the Baptist was Âto prepare the way of the Lord, to make his paths straight.Â The job of a retreat house could be said to be the same. We donÂt by enlarge do the preaching and the teaching. We try to prepare a space where people can stop, be quiet, rest in body, mind and spirit and be enabled to open up to whatever God may want to say to them. The retreat house is there to help to help people prepare to listen; to help make paths straight by assisting all those who come see and remove the burdens and barriers that get in the way of our walk with God. John the Baptist is the warm up man for JesusÂ ministry. He sets up the scene and begins to engage the audience with the issues. Then he stands back so that Jesus can do his work. If Launde Abbey with the grace of God can do that we are fulfilling our function and living up to our dedication.