Whilst in England we went to a play. But it was not an ordinary play. It took place outside and lasted for the whole day. I went along prepared to enjoy an interesting day. But God had other plans …
The Play : Part 1
We climbed on the bus early in the morning in light drizzle. The sort that wets you through if ignored, in its very dampness. We set off in good spirits, our driver competently coping with both the demands of the always busy ring-road and the challenges offered by tiny country lanes.
Arriving safely we donned waterproof clothing, joined the throng of others leaving their own coaches and tramped up the muddy road, following the signposts and one another.
Conversations were lively – people looking forward to the day. Children walked in crocodiles, carefully monitored by teachers as they shepherded their charges. Those less steady on their feet were helped up or down the steep slopes and there was a general feeling of goodwill. On arrival, blankets were spread, chairs assembled, and people settled down for a day in the country.
A flock of sheep ran through the open space before us, with a dog, streamlined, in hot pursuit, responding to the whistled commands of the shepherd on the hill. Later there was an apology for the lack of sheep. They had escaped their pen and so would not be performing that day. Now and again, sometimes at inopportune moments, we could hear one or other of them bleating.
The play began, and the familiar story of the nativity, as told by Luke, centuries ago, unfolded before our eyes. The rain continued to fall softly, but actors and audience were unperturbed. We watched, spellbound. The storytellers appeared from the woods, down muddy country tracks and from the steep hill behind us.
The child grew – and became a man. And it was time for the audience to move to a small lake over the hill – a lake which was both Galilee and the Jordan, where the man portraying Jesus was baptised. The audience gasped as a white dove was released and flew as the voice of God thundered over the sound system.
From one side, around a bend in the lake two boats appeared, each manned by pairs of brothers, obviously fishermen, expressing their disgust in broad, English country accents at their lack of success. They were disdainful when the man in white, standing on the shore suggested that they try again, on the other side of the boat. They reluctantly agreed to do so – and were amazed at the fish they caught.
But still one grumbled – Peter was now fed up that his net was torn and he would have to mend it. Always Peter was real. He never became too good, but argued and objected and did not understand, voicing his doubts and his questions to the end …
Then came the miracles. People were healed until it was late in their day and they were hungry and tired. Scripture tells us there were five thousand on the hillside and Jesus said to his disciples that they were to give the crowd something to eat. The disciples moved among the cast asking if anyone had food. None had.
So they crossed the small stream separating cast from audience – from us – those who sat on the hillside to watch.
They moved amongst us.
‘Have you any food?’ the woman asked me. I had. In my bag was a chicken salad. But how could they use that, in its plastic container?. I did not offer it, but smiled and shook my head and she moved on. Why did I not give it to her? Not because I was hungry or greedy or selfish. No. Because I was afraid. Afraid of what those around me would think if I offered an actor my lunch. But you see I felt in my heart that I was not asked by an actor. The words I heard through my ears were uttered by her.
But the words I heard in my heart and spirit were spoken by God.
The words were so real. It was as if God was asking me, “What else are you holding onto that you need to release to Me? What else?”
I looked down at the things I had brought with me, and found myself wondering “What do I have in my bag – my hand – that God wants to use? What else?”
And my heart ached that I had not offered my lunch – in spite of what others may have thought of me. What else?