Celebrating the Vision

Revd. Caroline Titley

Reflection for 24 January 2021

Revelation 19:6-10 John 2:1-11

Celebrations. They have been in short supply during the pandemic.

I am sure that we can all think of family gatherings that had to be cancelled or reduced drastically in scale. For many of us, our circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances has become narrower over the past 10 months because large gatherings have not been allowed. And in our church context, we cannot accommodate all the people who would like to come to our major services because of social distancing, although our comparatively large church is a blessing at this time.
It is in this context of living constricted lives that we read John’s account of the Wedding at Cana: the type of celebration that we cannot, at this time, attend. I must confess to a certain wistfulness at the prospect of attending a wedding celebration. The possibility seems like a past age.
The wedding at Cana was a typical example of a Jewish wedding, with the extended family present: a privilege, a gift for all who were invited, an occasion of joy. The mother of Jesus, Mary, seems to be the senior family member present and interestingly seems to call the shots. Jesus and his disciples ‘had also been invited’, the gospel writer tells us. It was a gathering of the clan.
A question we should ask ourselves is what lies behind our longing for these celebrations?
The author of John’s gospel can help us here. First a bit of background. The writer went through a very careful process of deciding what he would include in his gospel about Jesus’s life. In the very last verse of his gospel he writes, ‘’there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written’. So the choice of the wedding at Cana, a story not included in any other of the gospels, was deliberate. It is the first of the 7 signs (or miracles of Jesus) that John chose to include in his gospel, along with 7 sayings of Jesus – 7 being the symbolic number for divine plenitude, divine abundance.
The story builds on John’s picture of Jesus so far, his cosmic significance– in the beginning was the word- then the role of his forerunner, John the Baptist, and then the calling of the first disciples. There is no nativity story. Jesus’s mother, and his extended family, are introduced in the Wedding at Cana.
The celebration was a gathering of family members but it pointed to more than this. While we are individual children of God, we are also part of the people of God, part of something greater than ourselves. Meeting together in fellowship was and is an expression of this.
For the people of Israel, Yahweh, the LORD, was connected deeply to them. A metaphor used was Yahweh as husband. And this idea was developed in the New Testament where Jesus was identified as the Bridegroom, with Christians, not Israel, as the Bride.
The wedding at Cana points also to the character of God: to a generous LORD, rooted in the teaching of the Old Testament. A good example is found in the prophecy of Isaiah who has a vision of the LORD helping his people following the oppression of exile:
‘on this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-natured wines strained clear.’ (Isa 25:6).
The Wedding at Cana culminates in a revelation of God’s glory. Jesus turned the water into plenteous quantities of wine and, in the words of the Gospel writer, ‘revealed his Glory’.
So where might this lead us? The Book of Revelation encourages us to ‘rejoice and give him the glory’. ‘God’s glory can be reflected in the radiance of a single face but it is also expressed in the joy of our communal life.
So, both in our families and friendship circles, and in our life within our local church communities, I think we would do well to hold in our heads the vision of God’s glory from Scripture, and to look forward to the time when we can gather together. In this way we maintain hope that we can collectively, once again, rejoice and celebrate his glory in person, whilst also welcoming those who are housebound, working or living away from home, or for another reason want to join us online.
We can look forward to God’s abundance in the full panoply of our music, part of worship from the earliest times, and particularly the singing as a congregation which we cannot do at the moment. We can look forward to re-opening our smaller churches at St Catherine’s, St Peter’s and St John’s Priory for public worship. We can look forward to sitting beside one another, and to sharing the peace in the ways we wish. And, most of all, we rejoice in the prospect of worshipping in joyful communities, welcoming back those who have had to stay away for so long and greeting with open arms all who want to explore the glory that is God’s.

CHRISTMAS SERVICES 2020

This year, “Church” is going to look and feel very different!

We want to keep everyone safe, and also help as many people as possible to celebrate the Christmas message of hope and love. Sadly we will not be able to welcome the number of people that we normally see in church and so there be a mix of online Services and Services in church with restricted numbers.

Both choirs, and some of our readers, will be recording a Carol Service – which will be available to view online from Christmas Eve, and there will also be a pre-recorded “Crib Service” online that afternoon from c. 4pm.

We are not able to celebrate Midnight Mass this year, and the only service in church will be at 10.45am on Christmas Morning. Places must be pre-booked for this service as we will not be able to accommodate all who would like to come. To request a place, please email wiltonpcc@btinternet.com – specifying exact names and numbers of your group (and whether adult/child). Successful applicants will be notified the week before. Please do not attend unless you have received this confirmation – we cannot exceed our safe maximum. (St Catherine’s Church will make separate arrangements for Netherhampton residents)

This service will not be a Eucharist this year. Holy Communion will continue to be celebrated each Wednesday at 10am in the Parish Church (except Weds. 30th December) and there will also be Sung Eucharist on Sunday 27th December at 10.45am.

Wilton Windows

In the absence of Christmas Carols Service or Town Treelighting, we’ve encouraged people to decorate a window – to bring a little Christmas cheer.

Below are some of the results!

Charlotte Ponting
Ray and Elaine Johnson
The Mcnulty family (notice the doormat!!)
Michelle Marchment
Another “blaze” from North Street!
Childhood wonder! Window prepared by Tasha Cooney (and admired by Harrison!)
Abigail Collins – “A Merriment of Santas!!”
Christine Matthews – our first “Carol” depiction.

Christmas Star – Pam Edge

Feeling “sheepish”?

Address given on 22 November – “Christ the King”

Today I want to speak about Consequences, Kings and Caprinae – and I appreciate that that isn’t quite alliteration, but it does give you a short introduction as to where I’m going!

As we come to the end of the church’s year, on this last Sunday before Advent, we come to the end of our focus on St Matthew for our Gospel readings.
I remember standing here this time last year and advising those in church that we would be in for a bumpy ride:
St Matthew’s Gospel contains within it some of the most comforting sayings in scripture – “Come to me, all you who are weary – and I will give you rest”; or “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful..”;
and some inspiring words “Go and make disciples of all nations – behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
But it also includes some of the most difficult and challenging teachings of Jesus. And Chapter 25, from which we’ve just heard, is no exception: last week we heard the fate of the slave who failed to use the talent – the coin – entrusted to him by his master; and today’s parable of the sheep and goats seems equally unforgiving.
And there’s a very clear message that there will be consequences in the next life for the way that we live today. In this particular parable, the judgement is unequivocal and final – some are destined for eternal life, and others for eternal judgement, there is no middle ground.
That vision does fit with Matthew’s liking for hard edges – for a clear dividing line between the faithful, as he seems them, and everyone else. And yet, even so, the core of this parable is actually quite the opposite – emphasising the need to show kindness to those that most need it, whoever and wherever they may be
The kindness or the indifference with which we treat “the least” of our brothers and sisters is the way that Christ deems us to have treated him – and in turn, determines the way that he will treat us.

So what should we make of Christ the King – who, in this church, is depicted in the apse behind me, looking down from the judgement throne?
Clearly our own society, even with a reigning monarch, is very different from that of the 1st Century, where kings ruled in a more direct sense.
And, for me, the harsh judge of today’s parable brings to mind a rather troubling image of a celestial Donald Trump – issuing executive orders at whim, and sending away into the outer darkness anyone whose opinions don’t fit with the version of the truth he wants to present.
Fortunately, St Paul rides to the rescue today – in his letter to the Ephesians. Here the Son of Man, seated on the throne of glory, is identified clearly as the one who was raised from the dead, having first lived among us.
For Paul, then, “Christ the King” is not some distant, despotic figure – he is the Crucified Saviour, immersed in the sorrows of the word – and whose own human face we can still recognise, in the features of downtrodden and suffering humanity today.
It is because God does understand what it is to be human that he is such a powerful judge – there is no wriggle room, no excuse of frailty in front of one who’s seen and lived it all before us.
Come judgement day, it seems, there is nothing more to be said – our actions will speak for themselves.
At this time of year, as Christmas approaches, we inevitably face a whole raft of appeals from charities at home and abroad. And this year, in particular, with so much financial uncertainty, we may be left with the overwhelming feeling that we just can’t do everything we’d like to.
But can we, in watchful Advent, take the time to notice and to seek those who seem to be in greatest need, whoever and wherever they turn out to be?
Can we make Advent a season of preparation and of kindness, in which to work out what we can do for the least of these –
whether or not that involves giving money, or spending time with someone, or perhaps making a change of lifestyle to correct the negative impact we have on others?
And now to Caprinae – the sub-family to which both sheep and goats belong.
Sheep and goats may not always appear as different as our Gospel reading suggests.
I still remember the disgust in my household, when one well-meaning tourist referred to our Jacob’s sheep as “spotty goats”!
And if woolly, western sheep can be so easily confused, then I suspect the skinny sheep of Palestine are even more similar to the goats there – proving what we already know, that appearances can be deceptive.

Scientifically, there is a difference between the two: sheep have 54 chromosomes – and are referred to as the Ovis genus; whereas Goats – the Capra genus – have 60 chromosomes.
And they behave differently.
Sheep tend to graze, munching away wherever they are put (although if you ask my neighbour about our sheep and her vegetable garden, she may question that theory!)
Goats, on the other hand, are professional foragers – wandering at will: which is why we often see them tethered here, as they can be quite destructive when left to it.

Sheep are willing to be led – “my sheep hear my voice.. they know me, and follow me” – and they tend to flock together.
Goats tend to be more independent – of us and of each other. They are arguably more intelligent than sheep – and like to do their own thing.
So is that what the parable is getting at – that we are going to be judged on the degree to which we take account of others, rather than just ourselves?
As with the animals, so with people – we can’t possibly judge good from bad simply from appearances: and, in any case, it’s not our place to judge.
It’s not even that simple with ourselves, either: none of us is entirely good or bad – like the “spotty goats” that are in fact sheep – we almost certainly display confusing elements of both.

All of us, I suggest possess noble, selfless instincts – that drive us to do good things, to think good of others, to put others first;
but there are always those selfish doubts niggling away – am I being taken for a ride here; do I really want to do this; what about me for a change?

And so we will need to work at resisting our goat-like tendencies, and cultivating our sheep-like awareness of others – if we are to be clearly recognised by Christ on the right side of the divide.

And so, to risk another bout of alliteration, Advent calls for an attitude of attentiveness.
We are invited to be attentive to ourselves, and the way we live our lives;
attentive to others, and the things that might transform their lives for good;
attentive to God – who gave us life and, in Christ, has redeemed us all.