Just before Christmas on a dark winter’s evening, where we were battered by the wind and rain on our walk after school to the Church Rooms, the atmosphere once indoors couldn’t have been more different. It was one of excitement and high spirits as one of the kids was telling everyone over drinks and biscuits about her birthday the day before.
B: It was a surprise – my Mum took me to get my ears pierced and I got this pair of earrings!
E: I got mine done but it went wrong and they had to take it out and do it again!
(There was a detailed discussion about getting piercings for these 7 to 8 year-olds.)
B: I’m going to have a sleepover party and you’re coming (pointing to H and L).
(Again, there was a whole discussion about sleepovers.)
Me (seizing the opportunity): Well, what I have to talk about today is to do with parties. You all seem to be experts, so can you tell me what kind of parties you’ve been to or given?
A: I went to a fancy dress party and you had to dress up.
(Another discussion about fancy dress costumes.)
E: My brother had a football party for his birthday and you had to wear football kits!
Me: Oh yes, you need to wear the right clothes that’s fitting for the party… Has anyone been to a wedding? To the party (or reception) afterwards? What do you need to do to get ready for it?
L: My uncle got married and we ate lots of food and danced all night…
P: Yes, you need to wear a posh dress and put makeup on!
H: I’m going to wear high heels! You need some fancy earrings and necklace.
Me: Oh my! But yes the guests have to make an effort, because the host has done a lot of preparation for the party! Today, I’m going to tell you a story that Jesus told in the Bible, about a king who threw a party for his son who is getting married. He’s put a lot of thought into preparing a big banquet – there’s going to be lots of food at this wedding party… So, what kind of preparation do you think you’d need to make for a party?
B: Get a cake or bake one! Have lots of party food!
Me: Of course, but how do you know how much food you need? Way before that happens, how do you know people are even going to come?
E: My Mum had to send out invitations for my birthday party. We wrote the names on them and gave them out at school to friends.
Me: So how did your Mum know how many people to cater for? Did people reply?
E: Yeah, they texted or phoned because you put your mobile number on the invitations.
A: And you then buy all the food and the presents for the party bags!
Me: That’s good! So your Mum knew how many people were going to turn up… But can you imagine, if you received an invitation to the King’s son’s wedding, and people didn’t turn up? It’s a bit like we’re invited to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding – first of all, would you go? (It was the headline news that week!) What if you’ve said yes but you don’t go?
Rev James: Yes, I probably would go! It’s an honour, isn’t it?
A: They would be disappointed, or angry!
Me: That’s just what Jesus said – the King is angry, especially when the guests started making excuses and they’re not very good ones either. He feels snubbed, disrespected! So the King told his servants to go out into the streets and invite everybody else to come to his son’s wedding party, because there is plenty of room and food and it’s time to celebrate.
Me (taking out a posh-looking party invite): So, if you’ve been to a posh party or a wedding, you might have received an invitation that looks something like this… Would someone read this out please? (One of the children volunteered.) The King in Jesus’s story is God; the Son is himself; Jesus is telling us that everyone is invited to his party in heaven at the end of time.
H: What does R.S.V.P. mean?
R: It’s in French – Répondez s’il vous plait, which basically means “please respond” or “please reply”.
Me: So, quite often, along with an invitation you’d get a reply slip, which might look like this…
H: What does this mean? (pointing to the first line.)
Me: It means that they want you to reply by a certain date, and the date here says you have till the end of your life to make a decision.
H: The end of your life?!
L: What does this mean (pointing to the boxes.)
Rev. James: The first box means you’ll go to the party, and the second one means you won’t. You don’t have to decide now, as you have plenty of time to…
Me: And the line here is where you put your name.
(The children all started filling in the replies before we’ve finished speaking, ticking the first box.)
Me: So, shall we say a prayer before we play a party game?
(Several kids put their hands up, but I shall leave you with just one prayer here that the birthday girl prayed.)
B: Dear Father God, thank you for giving us the invitations, that we can come to heaven to party with you when we die. Amen.