‘You are not alone’. The message on the card was destined for an unknown recipient inserted into a box of gifts for refugees. We gathered clothes, toys and other items at the feast of Christ the king. It is the end of another liturgical year. I’m reminded of the song: ‘Nothing ever happens’ by Glasgow based band Del Amitri. Particularly the line, ‘the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along as before.’ But not this year. Our song had become dull, ‘How are we to sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?’ Del Amitri’s song has a darker side than a record player (what are those?) with an automatic return. Words from the song which you might reflect on about the loneliness and sadness of life: ‘And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow.’ But it goes on: ‘And bill holdings advertise products that nobody needs While angry from Manchester writes to complain about All the repeats on T.V. And computer terminals report some gains On the values of copper and tin While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs For the price of a hospital wing.’ There’s more here than being lonely during the long winter nights. I hear a critique of a world cut off from the rest and missing the connections which is why a simple child’s card written with the message ‘you are not alone’ struck me so much as an important thing to tell those to whom these things will go. Our song brightens as the message says: ‘We hear you’, ‘we see you’, and I would add, despite what some members of our government says and what you might read in some papers: ‘we believe your lives are worthy too.’ – It is a beautiful message of hope at a moment when the world is preparing for what could be for many the greatest festival of loneliness. And the song of the strange land of no borders, no limits, where all are welcomed in and valued begins to shine again. Before we prepare to sing along as before in our Advent preparations next week, we take a moment to reflect – difficult I know in these times. But we ought to. Reflect on the year past from birth to epiphany revelation to lent, betrayal, Easter resurrection. From the Spirit at Pentecost to the Trinity season, creation, harvest and Kingdom. Such is our christian year. Each time we go around, perhaps we go a little deeper, see a little more, learn something new, become people more attuned to the kingdom. As we gathered, collected, sorted and boxed up the gifts along with good wishes in cards we celebrate the kingdom of God and participate in its coming. The simple sentiment offering hope to those whose life has dealt them, a bitter pill it would seem, if you were to compare it to the lives lived by the two thirds world. The generosity of our communities of donated gifts for those who most desperately need them is wonderful. It is not without a small irony – that we didn’t need these things anyway and of course for those who did donate it was probably a little cathartic, purging our wardrobes of that which we seldom wear. Did you know we were celebrating the feast of Christ the king with a refugee clothes gathering party – or did you think we were just gathering clothes. You’d be mistaken for thinking it was just the latter, for who would suppose that such a simple act could be a celebration of Christ’s Kingdom? Did Christ not compel us to clothe the naked and feed the hungry?
Matthew’s parable of the marriage feast (Matt. 22. 1-14) has its origins in something much older. Luke has a version of it too, both probably added to it in order to say something to their communities. Matthew to the Jews, Luke to a wider audience. So the great supper in Luke becomes a Marriage feast and the certain man becomes a king. Matthew raises the stakes as he tells the story. Christians were being persecuted, the temple destroyed in 70ce and so we hear this reflected in the story as slaves are killed and the ‘king’ sends his army to burn the city.
How might we re-tell it today? Who is offering the feast and for whom? Who is invited? Who turns away? What are the consequences? Who ends up at the meal?
Don’t get confused with Matthew tagging on the bit about the marriage garment, it’s a different story, and asks: ‘Are we clothed with the right frame of mind?’ Not as you might be tempted to read it, that, even if you’ve been invited, you’re still not welcome. Everyone has been invited, and everyone is welcome. Some just choose to choose not to come.
Can we talk of a spiritual malaise of our time with this parable? I wonder what for us is the feast? Are there many who have chosen to choose not to partake? I don’t mean turning up to church on a Sunday morning, for that can be as bad as anything else we do without the ‘right garment’ (don’t forget that’s not about millinery).
We’ve lost a language of the feast of the kingdom. The language to speak of deep things such as pain and suffering and death and by and large we have been distracted by trivial matters because it is so difficult to talk about things that are real. Some years ago a film tried in part to speak about this – many people avoided it because of the violence, language and drug use, however it did have a point and it called us to reflect on our choices:
“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning”
This sounds so old, it is. 20 years in fact. I suspect even if you’d not seen Trainspotting, you’ll recognise the rail against materialism which I’m told is all but over. it’s been replaced by exerientialism. Which may not have been a word until a few moments ago. Welcome to the consumption of experience. (Radio 4’s Costing the earth addresses this very issue) By the way, did anyone tweet that they were coming to church this morning, or is it on facebook, instagram, snapchat? There is now 4G here so you could probably live web cast the experience… (if you wanted to…) So the twenty years later sequel T2 rails against social media and offers a jab at the culture of zero hour contracts, unfulfilled promises, never learning from our mistakes, slowly reconciling ourselves towards what we can get rather than what we had dreamed of, Watching history repeat itself.
And again the King invites us to the feast and still we’re not yet ready. We’ve been distracted by stone temples, faculties, PCC meetings, summer fetes, the size of scones with jam first, or is it scones with cream first and the minutes of the last meeting mis-spelling someones name, the lighting not being to the current ecological expectations, cutting the grass to less than a quarter inch lest someone complain. And we neglect to speak of the great things that attending the feast brings. The feast of life that is living with God’s love. The love that knows no limit. Living in the knowledge of who we are despite what we might own or have means to do. The love of life for its own sake, the life that Jesus taught us to have, and to have in abundance.
Welcome to the feast.
You offered me a smile
when I stopped to speak
I guess it was all you had
to give away. But I will carry
your smile with me and hold
it close. You were wrapped
in your duvet and woolly hat
clutching a small handful of
change. I was wrapped in my
concern for direction clutching
a device designed to connect.
You asked me for nothing. In
those precious minutes our
worlds collide. You will have
forgotten my face in the crowd
that passes you by. But I will carry
your smile with me and hold it close.
For I dared to turn aside from
the world across the street with
the well heeled whose eyes don’t
break their focussed concern
Amidst it all:
I heard you cry. ‘Scuse me?
And your gift, a simple smile
carries me on, lightens my heart.