From George Herbert, Anglican priest (1593-1633):
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“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?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
Herbert sets his scene at the heavenly banquet, as the speaker – a newcomer – encounters God personified as Love. In Herbert’s time, strict hospitality etiquette demanded (hah!) guests to be absolute recipients of grace, to the point that a casual offer to help the host clean up after dinner would have been as rude then as failing to offer could be today. The poem also draws on liturgical call-and-response, invitation and reluctance, until at last the final response is a continual feasting-upon grace.
The guest in Herbert’s poem finds the perfect Host attending to his every need, but the only thing he lacks is a “‘guest worthy to be here,’” a confession of his radical sinfulness. In a beautiful exchange, Love affirms his innate value as a creature which, the guest promptly laments, has been lost through his unkindness and ungratefulness. “‘Know you not,’” the Host asks, “‘who bore the blame?’” The guest finally accepts Christ’s substitution and his own place at the table. Quite reasonably, however, he insists on serving the meal to one so majestic as Love. Though we will undoubtedly reciprocate (imperfectly) God’s love in eternity, nonetheless God’s demands remain nil and He continues as one-way Love: ‘”You must sit down and taste my meat’ – So I did sit and eat.”