Thought for the Week 30 January 2011
The Gift of Conviviality
The story of the Wedding at Cana, often read at weddings, is really about the signs which Christ performed – it is the first – and also a sign of what he himself is. He is the one who is able to turn the water of duty and necessity into the wine of delight. His is the vintage which will last.
The image is vivid but what is its cash value? Certainly it is important to be able to say that Christ’s religion is not only about duty but also about delight. Maybe it is a lesson to Christians that the expression of their faith, in church and out, should be more fun. It is said that what made the work of slum priests of the Catholic tradition so successful in the last century is that church alone was a place of light, colour and music, all of it without danger. Conviviality, of course, was what made a huge difference. Thus when Charles Hepworth became vicar of South Creake – not a slum, it must hastily be added – he brought incense, coloured vestments, a robed choir as the expression of what he called the Holy Mysteries but he also brought fun. When curious journalists, who came to hear of his eccentric behaviour, enquired as to the reaction of the villagers, one is reported to have said ‘We know he antics, but we loike him, so we antics with him.’ His immediate successor, equally fond of smells and bells, did not ‘antic’ in the same way and his dour attitude sent people away.
The past is irrecoverable; psychedelic entertainments with quadraphonic sound can be had at parties or even, more controllably on the plasma screen. We needn’t leave the front room in order to experience bright lights. Conviviality only be had amongst a larger group but it doesn’t come instantly or necessarily. Liturgy is not what is written in the books or even in the rubrics. Perhaps it matters more than appears that the story of duty become delight is about a wedding. Weddings are celebrations of love, of the faithfulness in which duty and delight are one. It is always dangerous to suggest that the faith can be reduced to one idea, that of love, but quite certainly without it, the thing lacks driving steam.
Churches, in these straitened days, often thrash around looking for the secret of success. Those seeking growth see around them that the rains have not been prolific; the ground seems often parched. Expressive liturgy such as Charles Hepworth introduced and others have developed, spells out the mystery of divine love; the fripperies of candles, statues, vestments, bells and incense are the wedding dress, the suits, the cake, the careful layout of church and reception. Nothing, however, can replace the heartfelt vows, the ‘for better and worse’ of Christian vocation, which can only be made from love. The wine that keeps is the long term affection which we have for each other.