A strange reminder
I want to talk about something which happened in church yesterday as we celebrated Christmas Day. It was a communion service, as we have every year at St Barnabas, and even the fact we hadn’t yet picked the carols before the service started wasn’t new to us; for something that happens only once a year, it was all rather ordinary. I went up to take the bread and the wine, and as I returned to my seat, I became aware of an older woman with a walking frame sat on the back pew. In the short space of a few minutes she reminded me how truly important Christ’s birth should be to us.
After checking with Dad who was ushering people up to the step where communion is distributed, I went to ask if she wanted Mum to bring the communion to her. Before I had even had chance to convey the suggestion to her, she had begun to speak to me in a foreign language. She then asked if I could speak any German. I tentatively confirmed that yes, I do in fact have a tiny smattering of German. It became obvious that this wasn’t her first language, and that she was also very emotional. Dad came over (his German isn’t much better than mine) and she told us she was Catholic. We said she was very welcome here; it was obvious that she was aware this wasn’t a Catholic church, but St Barnabas has an unusually good tradition of welcoming Catholic’s to Christ’s table.
We tried to reassure her that it would be wonderful for her to come and receive bread and wine, and she began to make her way forwards, failing to fight back her tears. After the service she told me that she had been living in the area for 2 months, but hadn’t found a church. By the sounds of it, she had made her way through the cold in the off-chance she might find an open church from which to receive the mass; no small feat for someone of her obvious ill-health. And I watched as she lent her frame against the step, tears streaming down her face, the huge importance of the moment so very visible, and lifted her head to receive the bread.
After 24 Christmases, the whole routine has become a little bit predictable and ordinary, and yet, through the actions of a woman with whom I had almost no means of communicating, I saw once again the immense importance of the festival. No doubt back in Poland her relatives flocked in droves to receive mass, but she here was isolated, despite living in the mini ‘Polish district’ of the parish. And across parts of the world people will have huddled in fear and secrecy. And in other places they will have met outside because they simply can’t afford to build a church. And for some the meal of bread and wine will have been their only meal. And I can only wonder how can we be so dismissive of this festival’s central importance: of God being born as a human baby amongst the poorest, amongst the roofless, and becoming an outcast and a refugee.