Community of the Sisters of the Church

16 January 2010

‘You have kept the good wine until now.’ John 2:10

Sixty years is a lifetime. And here they are,  Sister Ann Mechtilde and Sister Ruth,  in the Community’s parlance, Twins for sixty years, though definitely not identical!   Entering the Community soon after the end of the War, Ann was not long demobbed from the RAF and work at Bletchley Park and Ruth a young Nurse, recently qualified, both rather gorgeous to look at!  Their Profession Day was on the Anniversary of  another pair of  Community Twins:  our then  Superior, Mother Rosemary and Sister Maud Mary, not identical either!

Sixty years, a Diamond Jubilee  so  how  might  diamonds speak to this occasion, after all in the words sung by Marilyn Monroe, ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’..

The word itself comes from the Greek, adamos-unbreakable,  seen also in the word, adamant-unyielding Adamos, unbreakable in itself seems to have something to say to this celebration.  There may be many reasons why people stand by  commitments made in youth, not all of them very elevated or religious.  But that doesn’t seem to matter.  God is the One who sorts it all out.  We are told in the Book of Genesis that God’s Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in the beginning and  brought creation into being.  God can do it in our personal lives  too and does.

Paul Tillich,  whose writings were at one time much favoured by Ann, asserted that no one moment in time could be made to bear the weight of a life time’s significance  e.g. in the making of life vows. But  the heart has its reasons that reason doesn’t know and traditional theology has seen the possibility of human beings keeping covenants, because of God’s own faithfulness to his creation and Covenant.   This doesn’t mean a rigid,  static, unyielding stance, for we are always being beckoned on to more life to a lifetime of personal growth and becoming.  

Growth and change need a framework in which to happen. In an article for the last CSC Newsletter, Sr. Catherine shared a quotation from a recent book on the Religious Life, ‘There is a maturing that happens to love only when it is subjected to committed life together, in all its fermenting joys and sorrows, over a considerable period of time.’  John Henry Newman expressed this in a beautiful prayer which I will have to quote imperfectly from memory:

O be with  me in this great, awful  happy change with the grace of your unchangeableness.  My stability here below is perseverance in changing. 

Newman goes further when he writes, ‘To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’  There have been plenty of changes in the past sixty years, both externally and internally.  

Diamonds are formed through pressure deep in the earth and brought to its surface by deep subterranean explosions.  There have been plenty of those as well in the lives of our sisters here, but they have come out of them alive and kicking!  ‘Do not leave unfinished the work of your hands,’ cries the psalmist.  I am reminded of something Graham Greene wrote in one of his books, The Power and the Glory  I think it was, of the whiskey priest in Central America; One should have thought of the invisible victories instead of the visible defeats.

Now at last coming to the text from John 2:10:  ‘You have kept the good wine until now.’ (John 2:10).  According to some scholars who comment on the Greek,  the word used has the sense of ‘just exactly now’.  ‘You have kept the good wine until  ‘just exactly now’.  God speaks to us, say the spiritual writers, through the language of every day events, in the happenings of the moment, this moment, ‘just exactly now.’  But not only that but the very best has been in the Gospel story, kept until just exactly now. So not only does the story tell us that the presence of Jesus makes all the difference,  transforms any situation, but that there is  always more and better to come.

‘Do whatever he tells you,’ says Mary to the servants (she must have had some responsibility for the occasion). What he told them to do must have seemed extremely odd,’ Fill the water pots with water up to the brim.’  These water pots symbols of the old order which Jesus was transcending and transforming were filled to the brim with water, but it was  poured out as wine, lashings of it, 750 litres, that’s 250  three litre boxes, put end to end here would probably cross the vegetable garden to the fence!  God’s generosity. Nothing stingy about God, no boundaries to God’s generosity.  Not only that but it was excellent wine, ‘You have kept the good wine until just exactly now.’

As we rejoice today with Ruth and Ann and give thanks for their contribution to our Community over sixty years, we might wonder what that will mean, does mean in their lives today. ‘You have kept the good wine until  just exactly now.’

This,  as the writer of the Gospel of John says, was the first of the signs which Jesus did, manifesting his glory pointing  in this event  to the transforming of human lives.  The Jewish philosopher, Philo who lived around the time of Jesus goes as far as to say that God pours into our souls the wine of joy and gladness, in fact that God is none other than the wine he pours, the wine of God’s very self.  AMEN and AMEN.