When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ (Luke 7:9)The young couple came to the church with their friends and extended family, to have their baby daughter baptised.
The family as a whole looked uncomfortable and a bit out of sorts. The mum was so proud, and yet a bit flustered and confused. The men were over-dressed - unused to ties, the grandfathers in suits that had fitted them well when they last wore them twenty-five years ago. A few of them didn't realise it was so hard parking outside the church, and arrived ten minutes late, having driven up and parked on the country lanes. The really keen ones - the baby's parents and the godparents - had parked in the special parking spots that "belonged" to some regular worshippers.
But as increasingly they outnumbered the regulars, they smiled and laughed and chatted as their friends and relatives came in, blinking in the unexpected darkness. They chatted through the "quiet time" before the service, through the early parts of the service. They giggled as the priest went past in his rather fetching - as they saw it - frock.
It wasn't just the car parking spaces they'd nicked. The early ones had sat in the wrong pews. The late ones, unaware of the church tradition, sat near the front. They stood up and sat down at the wrong time. Assuming this was what you did at church, some of them knelt for all the prayers.
Being a family with a lot of young adults, there were a lot of children. The smallest toddler toppled off a pew and smacked his head on the back of the one in front, screaming through the confession. The bigger ones were swiftly bored and, with nothing to do, started squabbling and fighting. When the Gospel procession went down the aisle, nobody turned to face it and the reading was directed at the back of many of their necks.
During the sermon, shocked by there being a joke, a few of them laughed embarrassingly and far too long.
When it came to the baptism, the parents and godparents stood awkwardly around and mumbled their professions and promises. The child was baptised to a storm of flashlights from endless phones - one of which had played AC/DC's "Hell ain't a bad place to be" during the sermon, when a real latecomer had phoned up to ask where the church was.
During the second set of prayers, the children had descended to throwing hymn books at each other. Their parents had given up trying to control them. The men mostly tutted, wandering when opening time might come round.
Having no idea what a "Eucharist" meant, the baptism party assumed that the Peace was the dismissal. While the regular congregation went around shaking hands with each other, the strangers walked straight out of the door and headed for the pub. A few of them thought it wasn't very nice of the vicar not to say goodbye. But mostly they didn't worry. The job was done.
The congregation relaxed. They could enjoy the peace of the Sacrament while simultaneously filing away being able to complain that the baptism people had walked out halfway through the service. They would enjoy that, during coffee. Normally it was just the vicar they had to complain about.
The vicar relaxed as well. He wasn't going to have to deal with the people who didn't really understand what they were doing, but came up for communion anyway. He hated that. Hated confusion. They had rules to keep things ordered.
They'd sat quietly with religious faces and holy attitudes when the baptism family come in. They'd smirked when their guests had got things wrong. They'd rolled their eyes when the kids had toppled off the outside of the font while watching the baptism. They'd not welcomed them, they'd not helped them when they were confused.They'd glared at the seats they normally sat in, while carefully not looking in the eyes of the temporary occupants.
They'd never understood about Jesus on the cross, arms held out to the whole world. Not understood about preaching the Gospel to all nations. Missed the point of the story of the centurion.
They'd never really understood God's love at all.