Here is the view out of my window 30 minutes ago.
Here’s something original that I’ve written. It isn’t meant to be read, it is meant to be orated by someone with a strong Yorkshire accent – Me. If all goes to plan, I will be doing that very thing at this moment in time in church. Hope you like it.
It was the end of one of the most bizarre weeks I’ve ever had. I have seen some strange things in my lifetime but some things make you stop and take notice. I mean yesterday was one of the…
Hang on, I should really start at the beginning of all this and let you see for your self what I mean. My name is Matthias. Not many people know what my name is. Not many people speak with me for long enough to ask. If they do take time over it they usually speak at me rather than to me. You see my job is mainly to do exactly as I’m told, when I’m told. If that doesn’t happen I’m in big trouble. My job is to work up at the big house. The work isn’t too bad as long as I keep at it and don’t slack off. I have to start early in the morning and usually have to work late into the evening but I enjoy my work. It is my job to ensure the smooth running of the house. The master is a fair man and I make sure that his house is clean. He has things to do and I ensure that the family are well fed. They call me a slave but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Mostly I work in the house and make sure everything runs smoothly. Well that is how it has been until recently.
Things all changed when the master came and told me that he had just announced the engagement of his daughter. He was not acting like himself, he seemed so happy. He spent a great deal of time talking to me that afternoon and not just the usual instructions. He even asked about my family. It was the first time and the last time he has ever shown any interest in my life.
He was so keen to show the rest of the town just how much he could spend on his daughters wedding. After all a hefty dowry was being paid and he wanted to show them all that she was worth it. His plans were grand but it all rested on me to make them happen on the day. Obviously there are others up at the house who helped with the onerous task but the organisation was down to me.
Of course the closer to the event the worse it has been. I have spent most of the last week fetching and carrying. I’ve only managed to catch a couple of hours sleep – I’m so tired. I had to make sure that everything was ready and the wedding would go off without a hitch. Of course the last few days have been nearly unbearable. As the day has drawn nearer people have been getting more and more stressed and began barking orders at me.
“Matthias go get the tables.”
“Matthias, where are the guests going to stay?”
“Matthias, what is happening with the food?”
“Matthias, GO AND GET THE TABLES!”
I had to bite my tongue just to get through it but finally we made it to the wedding without a falling out.
And when it arrived it was such a good day. Everyone was wearing their best clothes and behaving as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Everyone was really enjoying themselves. Some would say that they were possibly enjoying themselves a little too much. It is always the same once someone gets married. The band strike up and people start to drink the wine. They dance o the music and they have some wine. The food is served and they have some wine… People like to enjoy the occasion and let their hair down. Some may say that some of them enjoyed themselves a little too much but who am I to judge. I’m probably just bitter because I didn’t get to join in. What I heard all day was
“Matthias, show the guests in”
“Matthias, bring out the food.”
“Matthias, clear that up.”
The work of a slave is never done, there is always something that needs fetching, carrying, cooking or cleaning.
As the evening progressed everything was looking fantastic. The wine kept flowing and everyone kept laughing and dancing. It was good to see that all of the hard work I had put in was going to pay off. The event was going off without a hitch which was a good job as it was my neck on the block if anything went wrong. And how it was going to go wrong!
As the evening wore on there was a problem that is even now still a mystery to me. I had made most of the preparations for this and I bought the wine. I had strict instructions to buy enough for two hundred guests to have as much as they want and that is what I did. It wasn’t the best of wines but it was by no means the worst either. You wouldn’t give it to the emperor if he came round for dinner but lets face it, he wouldn’t be coming. I know that I told them to bring enough! Here we were half way through the evening and we were running out. If I am honest with you I was about to find somewhere to hide. This was about to be the most embarrassing moment for the master, running out of wine on this day when he was so proud. No-one would forget the wedding they went to that ran out of wine. I was so sure but what if I was so tired I made a mistake? I knew that he would punish me either way as all he would care about is that he told me to sort it.
As all this is racing through my head there was a bit of a commotion in the corner of the room. I’m not quite sure what happened as I was observing from a little way away so this will be a little sketchy. I didn’t really know who these people were but I recognised some of them. I think they were from Nazareth which is a few hours walk away and it isn’t the sort of journey you make every day. Suddenly the man and woman start being quite curt with each other. It is all in hushed tones but you can tell from the way they are looking at each other that she is being quite insistent.
With all this going on at the same time as the crisis I am having over the wine I was a little panicked to say the least. Being summoned over to this furore was an added complication that I didn’t need. I walk up there expecting harsh words to be spoken to me in front of everyone. At the least I was expecting the master at any minute to publicly shame me for my mistake so that he can save face with his guests. The funny thing is it didn’t happen. The woman just tells me to do whatever this other guy says.
I was astounded to say the least. His instructions were the strangest thing I’ve seen. He says to me “fill the jars with water”. I’ve never been of the most religious persuasion but it didn’t seem to be the most appropriate time to be worrying about ritual purity. I tried to explain this to him but he was quite insistent that I do it. I got help from the others and we kept our heads down. It took us half an hour to do it too. Somehow we managed to get 180 gallons of water from the well and into the room without disturbing everyone. We used every bucket we could find and filled those great stone jars to the top.
So we let the guy know that we had done it and informed him that he could perform his ‘ablutions’ but he just stayed where he was. He instructed me to take some of the water from the jars and give it to the chief steward. I started to protest that he was enjoying the day but this guy was insistent that I should take the water for him. Not only that he intended that I gave it to him as a drink. I’d never heard anything like it before. I already knew that I was in trouble with the master so I decided to do as this guy said as I had nothing to lose. I crossed the room to the cold stone jars and took a drought. Again crossing the room I presented it to the chief steward. At this point there was a large commotion as you would expect. It took me a moment to realise what had happened. Instead of being chastised for my stupidity by the chief steward he was shouting across the room at the bridegroom. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
We were stunned. No-one knew what had happened apart from the group from Nazareth and the servants who helped to collect the water with me. We had to check it for ourselves to make sure. Back across the room to the stone jars and sure enough, filled to the brim with wine! Everyone was sat enjoying themselves as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. The day continues without a hitch and the master is saved from being shamed in front of the whole town. For my part, I am saved from being punished for my mistake. And all because of this young guy from Nazareth.
If I was in your shoes I too would be cynically thinking that it was a trick. I have seen some charlatans over the years and this sounds pretty far-fetched. Recently we have had lots of people in the streets performing ‘miraculous deeds’ and trying to take your money. I know that we filled those jars with water from the well. He didn’t ask for anything or make a big show out of what he had done here that evening. He didn’t even go and touch the jars so most guests were oblivious to what he has done. I still don’t really know who he is. He is just some guy from Nazareth.
And after the party has ended and the excited feeling seeing something so miraculous abates it is back to normal. There is clearing up to do, a house to run and a master to serve…
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The Church of England today launched its Lenten discipline with a fanfare. It is a wonderful initiative to take look at the world around us and take it all in. As a psychologist, Ruth has been using mindfulness techniques for years to improve people’s mental health. We have actually used the raisin exercise in church on several occasions as a teaching tool about all of the things we miss in our busyness. Take 10 minutes, a pack of raisins and a small group in a reflective service. Here is the text:
Pick up a raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand. Look at it. Examine it. Describe the raisin. What does it look like? What color is it? How would you describe the texture? Now, feel the raisin in the palm of your hand. What does it feel like against your skin? Pick it up with your other hand. What does it feel like in your fingers? Is it slimy? Rough? Smooth? Soft? Hard? Squeeze it softly. What do you feel? Smell the raisin. Describe how it smells. Put the raisin in your mouth, but do not eat it. What does it feel like on your tongue? What does the texture feel like now? How does it taste? How does the taste compare to the way it smelled? Move it around in your mouth and notice every aspect of the raisin. Bite the raisin and think about what you taste. Now how does the raisin feel in your mouth? Finish chewing and eat the raisin. How did it taste?
For the first six weeks of my new role in North Halifax I’ve sounded a bit like a cracked record. As we celebrate the incarnation, we’ve been talking about the incarnate God who steps into the world to bring transformation. The words of Mary in the Magnificat set out the stall for a kingdom where the least in society are held up. At the main celebrations of Christmas I shared Howard Thurman’s poem calling the gathered people to putting their faith in action.
Little did I know that in the coming days I would be amazed to discover that a member of our community was awarded an MBE for just that, a lifetime of work for the good of the community. Archbishop Rowan’s last New Years message is dedicated to encouraging people to “join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication”. This is the work of the local church, a faith in action bringing transformation to the lives of the people we live amongst.
In 2012 we have had a year where the media have been writing their own narrative of The Church (TM) and it is not a story I recognise in the reality of our lives. We need to continue to faithfully tell our story of God who cares so much about the lives of the least that He inspires us to action in the communities we live in.