Sunday 24 January 2021
‘Heaven in ordinarie’
Genesis 14:17-20; Revelation 19:6-10; John 2:1-11
Context: South London Church, Anglo-Catholic tradition, 50-60 adult attenders
Aim: an encouragement to see God in the everyday
I’d been slaving over a hot computer all day. Zoom had lost its appeal. Finally, I was outside enjoying some late afternoon sunshine but still, to be honest, a little jaded. And then there appeared, over the top of the tall garden fence, a hand, as though from heaven. More heavenly still, it held out a bottle of beer. This was my neighbour Dave, who I hardly knew until lately. He had read my mind. He knew when a chap’s spirits needed lifting.
The day picked up. A beer or two, blue sky, a friendly chat. The world once again had life and joy in it. ‘Epiphany’ might be pushing it but still, for me, a glimpse of God’s everyday goodness.
Abram’s meeting with the mysterious Melchizedek sounds far from every day. It has meanings that speak to us across the centuries. Of the blessing of ‘God most high,’ of whom the Canaanite priest and king spoke more truly than he knew. Of Salem, future Jerusalem, city of David and of peace. A place of hope for so many. And the bread and wine: a simple meal and an act of hospitality. But for us, the ultimate sign of God’s love, of Christ himself, and of the banquet that, so Isaiah tells us, God has in store for all peoples. The marriage supper in Revelation draws on that vision too.
WATER INTO WINE
Scroll forward two thousand years. Jesus and his mother are at Cana where the first of his miraculous signs unfolds – plain ritual water for washing, changed into a huge quantity of wine. It speaks in symbol of God’s limitless love and generosity.
There’s plenty here that grabs attention – the role of Jesus’ mother, who knows when not to take him at his rather discouraging word. The threat of social embarrassment and a catering crisis. And the wine: it isn’t just magicked up out of nothing; Jesus creates it out of plain, everyday water. Just as he makes us, his disciples and followers, out of sometimes unpromising raw material – a work of transformation that continues daily.
And there is a message here about our call to be part of God’s transforming work in all creation, not just in ourselves. Archbishop Cosmo Lang wrote: ‘The Christian is the true artist of life … It is not too much to say that the main business of the Christian life is to go through the world turning its water into wine.’ That is such a huge challenge. But exciting too.
BEING FED; FEEDING OTHERS
What might that look like? Being attentive and simply valuing companionship on equal terms can be part of it. Years ago, I was with a pilgrim group in the Sinai desert for a couple of weeks. Not so far from where Abraham had journeyed, Moses received the law, Elijah sought refuge, and Christianity’s earliest desert fathers and mothers lived and prayed. Local Bedouin tribes’ folk kept us fed, watered, rested and safe. They were our paid and skilful hosts; we, their very well looked-after guests. But one evening, to the accompaniment of food and drink, in the clear night air beneath starlight, we talked, and we sang. We heard one another’s stories. We became friends.
‘HEAVEN IN ORDINARIE’
And sometimes in God’s economy, guest and host become one and the same. No distinction. Just a year ago, a young man from Syria found asylum here in the UK. His home village had been attacked, he had fled, he’d spent time in the refugee camp in France, the so-called Calais Jungle. He had looked after a sick friend while he was there and had discovered a talent for cooking, for feeding people, even in the most limiting circumstances.
And now? He has a pop-up café in north London and it’s doing well. Having received a welcome, he is building community there and welcoming others. He gets to share with people from all places and backgrounds the cooking of his homeland and stories of the country he loves. And the top item on the menu is ‘Jungle Eggs.’ That name redeems the memory and experience of a dark place and time. It transforms the ordinary into something rather wonderful.
George Herbert wrote of prayer as that which feeds us and draws us to God: ‘the church’s banquet; exalted manna.’ As that which transforms the everyday: ‘heaven in ordinarie,’ he called it. Now and always, God’s world-changing life is all around, if we will see it. Like the kingdom of heaven, it is within us.
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