Sunday 27 January – Proper 3 Ann Tomlinson
ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST, PRINCES STREET
Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany translated to January 27th 2019
Isaiah 62, 1-5; 1Cor. 12, 1-11; John 2, 1-11
In 1966, the Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal travelled to the Solentiname archipelago in the south of Lake Nicaragua, and there founded a base ecclesial community. The weekly Eucharist in the community included a participatory Bible study, which was tape-recorded and later published as a 4-volume book, The Gospel in Solentiname. Members of the community illustrated these Bible Studies, developing a distinctive primitivist style of painting that remains highly influential in Nicaragua. One of these paintings depicts the wedding at Cana. It shows bride and groom, steward and wedding guests, all brightly arrayed in South American dress, sitting outside in the sunshine enjoying the marriage festivities and drinking deeply of the fine wine; intent on the good things of life. But across to the right of the painting, hidden away in the house, excluded from the gaiety, stands Christ beside the water jars. And watching him are servants and children. Absorbed, transfixed, attentive – but definitely nor part of the main scene. Definitely not the movers and shakers. They were obedient, those servants, that’s for sure. After all, they’d had to fill the six stone jars already that day in order that there might be water for the ritual lustrations which the guests would undergo prior to the feast. 120 gallons is a lot of trips to the well and back. Doubtless they’d been glad when that part of their work was over and they could get on with the lighter tasks, serving at table and attending to the guests’ every need… of which there were undoubtedly many. Not least the request from one of the guests and His mother to fill the jars with water yet again. What a cheek! We might expect, if not insurrection, at least a little sloppiness in their response to this importunate demand; half-measures only. But no; ‘they filled them up to the brim’, we are told. Clearly these servants are not only obedient but hard-working, at pains to do their job well. Quietly working away in the background. Marginal to the party … … and yet participants in the real action. ‘The servants who had drawn the water knew’ where the wine had come from, because they had witnessed the wonderful exchange for themselves; had beheld the glory; had seen with their own eyes, that crucial first stage in the Johannine journey towards belief. They had been faithful servants to the Servant, and in so doing, had been party to how the genuine Bridegroom, as a guest at a festival of marriage in the life of God’s people, had transformed it. The servants who had drawn the water knew. Oh yes, they knew. But still the Solentiname artist leaves them there on the margins. Outsiders. As indeed they were, as far as the party-goers were concerned. Did the guests even notice them as the festivities went on? Do we notice them – or do we simply gloss over their part in the story, focussing our sights instead on the disciples and their act of believing. These twelve, we say, are the principal protagonists on this sign-filled journey; a journey which will culminate on that other ‘third day’ when the final glory will be manifested. These are the important people to watch. And associate with. So we take the servants, the diakonoi, for granted, and overlook their ministry. We do it with this story and we do it all the time in our church communities, focussing on the ones who are up-front and spectacular; those who have ministries that are visible and valued. We privilege some gifts and downplay others; grandstand some people and ignore the contributions of the rest. Even as we feast; even as we gather to drink of the abundant wine. But this is not the way to behave, Paul says fiercely to the community in Corinth. Clearly the Christians there had been constructing hierarchies of value in their life together. Those with little or nothing had been excluded from the proper sharing of food, humiliated and marginalised by the conspicuous consumption of their fellow believers. And those with the gift of ecstatic utterance had been using it solipsistically, building themselves up rather than nurturing the community at large. Paul makes it clear that, in God’s economy, there is no hierarchy of gifts, service or activity; all these come from the same hand and every member of the body is an equal recipient of these ‘distributions’(dîaireseis). Quiet acts of healing and discernment, the daily deeds of wise counsel, faithful living and pastoral care, are on a par with the more articulate ministries of teaching, tongues, interpretation and prophecy. Public and private, spectacular and secret are to be used alike to serve and magnify the Lord, to affirm the unity of the church, and to work for the common good. Used to build up a worshipping community of people that honours the Lord, both sign and sacramental anticipation of that alternative society where all are valued, all are welcome; ‘where each gives according to their abilities to each according to their needs’; an earnest of that Banquet where rich and poor, showy and silent, feast side by side, as equals and neighbours. Deacons are an essential part of Anglican church polity, and so it is truly excellent that this summer four vocational deacons – people who feel called to remain in that Order and not move into priesthood (like your beloved Freda) – will emerge from our Theological Institute. The four, I know, will have remarkable ministries – one with the homeless, another with the bereaved, another with the elderly and the fourth as part of a group of ministers in Inverness ministering to the multiple needs of those who live and work in the city centre. But in each case the spotlight will not be on them as such; deacons exist to focus, to bring into sharp relief, the diaconal ministries of the people of God, the things you do when you are sent by the deacon at the end of the service to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. The ways in which you live out your baptismal promises, to proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people. Working for justice and peace, honouring God in all Creation. For this is the task of the Church. This is our task, the task of each one of us here: to live and work for the kingdom of God. As the Solentiname campesinos continue to consider the implications of the story of the wedding at Cana their priest explains that Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God as a marriage or a wedding feast, and of Himself as the Bridegroom. Felipe, one of the campesinos, picks that idea up and runs with it, and others join in: Felipe: There will be no lonely people, no frustrated ones then, will there? This love is going to be for everyone, for every single one. No-one will be excluded from that wedding. That will be true social justice. Olivia: Everybody, men, women, old people, children, even nursing babies, we all form a single body; humanity, the bride loved by God. Laureano: Or we’re struggling to form it. Oh yes, these peasant folk, they get it. They understand what true community is meant to look like. An assembly without ‘frustrated ones’ who long to contribute but who get overlooked. A fellowship in which all are enabled to share their God-given gifts, allotted for the sake of the common good. A single body with many different members. The bride loved by God. The servants who had drawn the water knew. Let us – disciples who have ‘believed in Him’, servants who continue to draw the living water and drink the ever-abundant wine of His new life – let us continue to struggle to form our churches into signs of the Kingdom, that festival ‘at which the poor man is king and quite different things (are) going on’; communities where everyone forms a single body, regardless of competency or caste, status or salary; congregations in which all gifts are valued equally. And in which no-one is left out of the party. No-one is left out of the Ceilidh … Canon Anne Tomlinson Principal, Scottish Episcopal Institute
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