When I was thinking about which Bible reading to pick for this service, I thought about every time I met Peter and his enjoyment of a glass of wine. He is also responsible for starting places of hospitality where life is refreshed in the company of friends and loved ones. For us Pizza Express has been a favourite family restaurant, ‘dough balls dopio’ being a fun starter we can all dive into and enjoy the different dips. Like so many other, as a family we have much to be grateful to Peter for. So, a reading about the overwhelming generosity and abundance of God’s grace through the transformation of those six stone water jars into a fine vintage wine, seemed more than a little bit appropriate (John 2:1-11). We can raise a glass or two in his honour.
The quantity involved in that story is enormous, even excessive. Those who are particularly quick at mental maths may have already worked out that six jars, each holding 30 gallons of water, produces the equivalent of around 1,000 bottles of fine wine. That’s more than enough for most parties, not least when we consider this was only produced after the poor, embarrassed caterer had run out. So this speaks of generosity off the scale and of blessing, of filling life with abundant goodness. There is great joy and flourishing in this passage.
Generous is one of the words many have used when talking about Peter – Peter the public figure and also Peter in private. He was known as Mr Peterborough for his championing of this city and major institutions in it, from this Cathedral, the football club (POSH) and Broadway Theatre. There are also countless smaller and much quieter personal acts of support for individuals away from the public gaze, but which nonetheless made a tremendous difference to those lives; the people involved never forgot and were deeply thankful. He was a benefactor of this Cathedral, where he had been a chorister as a child and left his mark, not least in carving his name on the front stall on the south side where he sat. He had very fond memories of his time as a chorister. He was generous in helping the junior department of King’s (the Cathedral) School be established to support this generation of young choristers and it is fitting that the senior members of today’s front row are here singing at this service for one of their predecessors. Peter made a difference locally, nationally and internationally. That is not a bad legacy to leave and one which can inspire us. We have much to give thanks for.
The Bible reading we heard was not really about what looks like a magic trick. Actually this is a story with a point, that God’s love makes a difference in such a way that his goodness and generosity overflow with abundance beyond anything we can expect. We often miss the humour in the Bible, but there is a joke here, a playful and fun reminder of God’s redeeming grace. The jars were for the rites of purification and these are turned into a symbol of the heavenly banquet. Wine comes from water set aside for washing, for cleansing; what better symbol of the abundance, of God’s favour! Our thoughts and anxiety about needing to match up are met with a party. Love greets us and embraces us, telling us not to fuss but know that we are loved and our lives are held in the grace and purpose of God’s love. It is easy to be drawn into a cycle of despondency and gloom, everything is not as it should be and so being angry can become the backdrop to so much around us with a big grump. Against this God stacks up 1,000 bottles of wine! Love is generous and brings us home. God is good to us in our own lives and also in the people we share it with. We are invited to be generous in turn.
Today we give thanks for Peter and the grace, love and mercy shown to him and through him. Yes, he could be difficult at times and yes he liked to control things. He could be maddening to those particularly close to him and also evoked deep loyalty and affection. He had his flaws as we have ours. Just like him, rather than getting bogged down in rites of purification, we are greeted with the bottles of wine of God’s love and grace. Forget the grump and delight in the abundant life held out to us in Jesus Christ.
Today we give thanks for Peter and remember him in the hope and assurance of the resurrection hope we have in Jesus Christ. Churches mattered to Peter – he was very fond of this one and also Peterborough’s Parish Church across the square. Both stand as signs and instruments of that gospel of hope and saving grace. Given, not earned, poured out for us because God is good to us. Hospitality is deeply set in the heart of the Bible.
So let us remember with thankful hearts and as we pray for Peter so let us pray that this generous, hospitable love will embrace us all. May we in turn show that generosity in lives that bless others.
Address at Memorial Service for Peter Boizot, Peterborough Cathedral, Friday 8th February 2019