March 20 is the feast of St Cuthbert, who died on this day in 687. There is a story that one Friday, the bishop of Lindisfarne, Saint Cuthbert was welcomed into an isolated farmstead by a woman who offered to feed him and his horse. ‘Stay and eat’, she said, ‘for you won’t reach home tonight.’ But Cuthbert would not break his Friday fast, so he rested a while, let her care for his horse, and pressed on his way. It got dark well before he was in sight of home so he found shelter in a tumbledown, empty, isolated shepherd’s hut.
Here his horse began to pull down the thatch of the roof to have something to eat, but even Cuthbert could not see thatch as food for a man, however hungry he might be. The horse carried on attacking the roof, making the best of what was available in this wild place. As it pulled at the thatch, a packet fell to the floor; when the good bishop opened it he found bread and meat, the meat still warm. He shared the loaf with his beast as he gave thanks to God. How did the meal get there? Was it concealed by the hospitable woman as she tended his horse back at the farm? Cuthbert did not know, but he was happy to eat what was provided after his day of fasting had finished – for like the Muslims at Ramadan today, he would have counted sunset as the day’s end.
In Muslim countries today, many Christians will observe the fast in solidarity with their neighbours. So let us enjoy our sandwiches – yes, even in this season of Lent – to thank the Lord who provides the food, as Cuthbert did, and to share in the ministry of hospitality, like the woman on the farmstead.
Cuthbert in a wall painting at Durham Cathedral.
Please remember in your prayers Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB, sometime Abbot of Quarr, who died on January 16, 2017. He was from Saint Cuthbert’s diocese and was ministering there when he fell sick and died. Will T.
Photo from thepelicans.org.uk where you can read Abbot Cuthbert’s obituary and an address he gave for the Missionaries of Africa to whom he remained close. http://thepelicans.org.uk/obituaries/obits24.htm#pjohnson