I went to this grand dinner. I couldn’t remember being invited, and wasn’t sure how I’d got there, but I was in this huge room. There were loads of people there, milling around, chatting in groups. I was on my own, and I didn’t know anybody. I wasn’t even properly dressed for the occasion. I must have gone in a hurry in the clothes I was already wearing. It was all a bit embarrassing, as pretty well everyone else was dressed in nice clothes, evening wear. I had a good look from the edge of the room. There were costumes from all over the world, and such finery! And some people were wearing the uniforms of their business – I saw a general, and over there in private conversation was a bishop.
It was all a bit intimidating. I plucked up courage and wandered towards a friendly looking group, but they took one look at me and closed ranks, turning their backs to me. I wasn’t welcome there. So I looked for someone who was on their own and tried to start a conversation with them. That didn’t go much better.
“Hello!” I said.
“Humph,” said the man.
“This seems a nice place”, I said.
“Humph!” said the man, and he looked away from me into the far distance, which was very discouraging. I was only trying to find someone who could tell me where we were and what this was all about and what I was supposed to do. For all I knew, I was one of the cleaning team. I certainly looked like it in my old clothes!
So I wandered round the edge of the room trying to get a sense of what was going on. Every now and then I would see a door open, and someone else would come into the room, looking a bit dazed and distant, just as I felt. I tried to open a door, hoping to get to somewhere quieter, but it wouldn’t open. I tried another door where someone had just come in, but that wouldn’t open either. It seemed that the doors only opened from the other side. You could come in, but you couldn’t go out.
I tried to listen in to the conversations around me, hoping that I would be able to pick something up.
“I’m hoping to meet up with il papa,” said one grande dame, resplendent in jewels. “I’ve always wanted to kiss his ring.”
“But which pope?” said another member of the group, there are so many! And they all laughed.
There was a younger group, though age was all relative. I would have called them aged hippies, but when I looked more closely, I could see it was all wearing designer gear. They were talking about the arrival of a newcomer, Bowie, I thought they said.
I spoke to one of the newbies, who had just come through the door.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“I’ve come for the dinner,” she said. “Where am I supposed to go?”
Well, I couldn’t tell her.
Then a voice boomed out – there must have been some kind of tannoy system, though I couldn’t see the speakers, “would you please be seated!” It was more of a command than a request. Everyone started to surge towards the far corner, and I realised there was a door into another room, so I just went with the flow.
The other room was even bigger, containing hundreds of large tables, all beautifully laid out with fine line and floral arrangements. There was a top table on a podium at the head of the room. It wasn’t at all clear where anyone was supposed to sit. There were no table plans and no little place tags. Eventually, people just began to sit down wherever they found a seat.
In the press of people, I had got caught up with a group that were making their way nearer to the high table. They were a very grand group, and I was embarrassed to find myself in their company. There was a man all dressed in white, and an Anglican bishop I remembered seeing in the paper. They commandeered a table not too far from the podium. There was one place left on the end, so I sat down. They all turned and looked at me.
“I don’t think so!” said a gentleman with a large moustache, and the woman next to him shook her head. “Don’t you know whose table that is?” she said, gesturing at the high table nearby on the podium. “I don’t think you should be here!”
I was mortified. So I got up, knocking the chair over as I did, and scuttled away. It was harder to find a place now, as the seats were pretty much occupied.
At last, I saw an empty place, but a woman sitting close by smiled sweetly and stretched her gloved hand over the chair. “I’m sorry”, she said. “This one’s reserved!”
I ended up at the far end of the room. The tables weren’t nearly so grand. They were occupied by ordinary people, the kind of people I might recognise, in ordinary clothes like me. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was where I was meant to be. Nevertheless, it was still difficult to find an empty place. Just then, I saw one, at the end of a table over in the corner, and I started to move towards it. It was near a door, and the door opened just as I got there and a man came in. We were both looking at the last available place.
The man looked at me and smiled, and I looked at him, and recognised him and smiled back, and he laughed and waved his hands, and the angels who were serving set an extra place at the head of the table. And me and Jesus, we sat down together, for the feast of the kingdom of heaven.