THE Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of the invasion of England ...

Date: Saturday 12th June 1999

THE Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror. In one panel, a bishop is seen laying about a group of reluctant soldiers with the flat of his sword. The caption says: “Bishop Odo comforts the troops.” A strange kind of comfort!

However, the word “comfort” contains the syllable “fort” and that means “strong”, and comfort is all about giving strength to people when they are feeling weak and vulnerable.

In this case, the Norman troops were scared by the impressive fighting of the English under Harold. Some of them thought of deserting, others of refusing to go into battle. Until Odo came and comforted them, that is!

The result was that they decided to fight after all. Harold was slain. The English were routed.

There are other kinds of comfort, of course. It is a great and precious gift to be able to come alongside people in their trouble or loneliness or grief or fear or despair, and just by being there give them a bit of hope and strength.

In the Old Testament book of Job, the hero is brought low by a series of disasters, personal bereavements and, finally, by illness. Three friends “made an appointment together to come to condole with him and comfort him … they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no-one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2.11-13). Their silence was a consolation.

June 11th is St. Barnabas’s Day. Luke tells us that Barnabas means “Son of Consolation”, or “of Comfort”. Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew who came alongside Paul when nobody wanted to listen to him. He befriended him, gave him the courage to speak out and proclaim the Gospel.

Later on, Paul was to fall out with him for befriending somebody whom Paul had rejected, and he virtually disappears from the Scripture. He had done his job quietly and efficiently. His comforting had enabled Paul to step forward. He could now slip into the background. If Paul was the great Apostle to the Gentiles, Barnabas was the Great Encourager.

The world can do with a lot more comforters — Barnabas rather than Odo, for preference! Give strength to others; but draw on God’s illimitable strength yourself first of all. You will have nothing to give if you have not received it first.