logo1 edited 1Join us on facebook

How Delectable?


I suppose that if John Bunyan were to place me on the map of the “Pilgrim’s Progress” he would locate me on the Delectable Mountains, God’s waiting room for those nearly ready to cross, having still to contemplate a sudden call, but with the possibility of a wee while still to come. That is indeed where I am on Jan 21st 2012.

The question about how delectable such a situation might be is further complicated by my uncertainty about exactly how the word would be used in the English of John Bunyan’s day. If the word means something like the places where a right choice has been made, then I can own it. I am here, as John Bunyan’s Christian was before me, because God in his unrivalled grace has enabled me to put my trust in Jesus and that is certainly the most delectable choice there could be. I have lived it out patchily and often rather badly, but it has shaped my priorities of calling and relationships and from first to last is has been the deep joy that has given sometimes confidence and sometimes deep down delight to our marriage and ministry. There, I have been living and waiting. Delectable mountains indeed! But perhaps ‘delectable’ had a different meaning for Bunyan – battles won, doubts overcome, problems resolved, unclouded anticipation of all that is to come.

In that sense I am not finding this a delectable place. Although in the ultimate, Jesus lives and reigns and saves, sometimes he seems a long way off and the old fights and fears continue to test, to trouble and to try, and battles have to be waged in much physical weakness to which I used to bring much more natural energy and intellectual awareness.

It is as if there as a sort of hierarchical accordion, which when it is pulled out to its full distance, makes God at one end of it and myself at the other almost unreachable. He shines in unique transcendence of his divine majesty and leaves me far behind, an insignificant quark in the coruscating whirling systems of omnipotence. As he reveals his utter self-commitment to his uncompromising purposes of holy love, I am shown again and again in a way far beyond ordinary ethics and morality just how ungodly, unholy, unlike him I am. I was there; I was most certainly there when they crucified my Lord. And this distance is not between me and some remote metaphysical deity hidden for ever in his heaven, but between me and my incarnate risen Lord Jesus on whom for me everything ever depends.

To speak now in terms of the exalted Lamb of revelation, when the accordion is stretched widest, there is more judgement than there is mercy, more throne than there is Lamb. And God being as God is, Jesus being as Jesus is, and we being as we are, I am sure that the recognition of such distance between us is a necessary moment in our response to the gospel that sweeps all sentimental piosity for ever away.

One moment, but thank God not the only moment, the stretched hierarchical accordion that has held me at such distance, swings mysteriously inwards and now we see not the throne but the Lamb, the lofty Pantacrator of Byzantium unveils his tender gentleness; from among the apocalyptic confrontations of empires and dragons. The same voice rings out in embracing compassion. “Come to me all who are labouring and heavy laden and I will give you rest for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls”.

If I ask myself why there should be this alternation of advance and retreat in our ongoing dealings with Jesus, my best answer is that he draws near to show me how human he is at my end of the spectrum, and that he draws away into his kingly mode to draw me after him to share that kingship and to find that among the clashing empires and dangerous dragons, there is the same compassionate and mighty humanity making ready for the new Jerusalem to descend.

Perhaps this is the secret. It is the intense glory of his incarnate and risen humanity in which what he is and what I am becomes one. His humanity both saves and appals us but in him, there is a infinite possibility of fulfilled relationship as will release us into hardly yet explored depths of friendship, flowing out from the ultimate relationship of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. Putting all that in its simplest terms, I hope because of what I have known of the risen Christ, that the new Jerusalem amidst all its splendour will turn out to be a far friendlier place than it has often been depicted. “You are my friends, so be friends with one another”, he said.

Away with all the pre-Raphaelite angels with their gaudy robes and rebuking haloes! Away with all those babyish cherubs with their well-sculpted buttocks away with clouds and harps and all the medieval religious clutter that goes with them.

Perhaps the end is more like the beginning! A friendly Lord who wants to walk with his friends in the well-ordered garden in the cool of the evening. A resurrected Jesus with a fish pan in hand greeting his weary friends with an invitation to breakfast.

Perhaps the new Jerusalem, just because it is so completely spirit-filled than the old will turn out to be much more physical, even more material than the old, where adoring worship of God melds into a daily living with God in covenantal fulfilment beyond all description or imagining,

So I sit with John Bunyan’s Christian and the countless others who have passed this way and wait my time on the Delectable Mountains and sometimes from the summit that I hear from, across that river, fully integrated and at one with the unending praise of the Lamb, some echoes of purified, domestic jollity, cultural creativity, human happiness in Jesus, our life and our Lord.


Tom Smail

21 and 22 Jan 2012


Tom wrote this sermon just about a week before he died, and as he contemplated going home to the Lord he loved, following years of service as a remarkable Christian minister and theologian.  I feel privileged to be able to post it here, especially as it was never delivered to a listening congregation.  Elaine.