Letter from St Mark's House

St Mark's House

October - November 2019

 

Dear friends

In January 1894 a four year old boy was rescued from the river in Passau – the city of three rivers (the Inn, llz and Danube) where we paused at St Stephen’s splendid baroque cathedral, enthralled by the magnificent music of the largest church organ in the world (with 17974 pipes arranged in 5 sub-organs!). As the hymn puts it “loud organs his glory forth tell in deep tone…” – and how they did! Travelling on, God’s glory was seen in the beauty of creation through which we passed on our way down the Danube: terraced vineyards, forested slopes, colourful houses and charming villages where spires pointed Godward above the trees.

It has been said that rivers have the power simultaneously to divide and connect people – a paradox embodied by the Danube which transported armies for conflict, traders for commerce and travellers for recreation. The river winds not only through ten countries with diverse cultures but centuries of history, enshrined in castles along the way or explained by our guides who lived through recent conflicts. And so we came to our final mooring at Budapest where, along the quayside was a long row of shoes – ‘The Shoes on the Danube Promenade’ - a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who, in the winter of 1944-45, were massacred on the banks of the Danube. And what of that four year old boy rescued from the Passau river? Adolf Hitler. How would his rescuer feel as history unfolded? He didn’t know the end from the beginning – and nor do we. What are we to make of it all? Beauty and barbarity. From this haunting memorial we crossed the river to the splendour of the neo-classical basilica, named for King Stephen, to hear a harpist, as the hymn puts it, “…sweet harp, the story of what He hath done”. It is in the story “of what He hath done” that we have a framework for understanding the flow of history through the passage of another river.

Throughout the Bible narrative a river flows from Genesis to Revelation, even through barren wilderness wastes, from Eden to the new creation. There, in vivid language, the river of the water of life is pictured flowing from God’s throne and the leaves of the tree of life are “for the healing of the nations”. For a wounded world there is hope of restoration and redemption, a future in which barbarity is judged and beauty is triumphant. For a parched world, people dissatisfied by life and longing to quench their thirst, there is revival and refreshment to be found in responding to God’s invitation to drink the free gift of the water of life. From creation to consummation it is the sovereign God who directs the river which does not meander at random but moves with purpose to His appointed end, giving life to all who drink.

Enjoying the river!

Nick and Harriet