Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Ivory and Gold Tablecloth

I read this story yesterday and decided to post it today. It's a very touching story about a "wee miracle" that touched the lives of many people:

The Ivory and Gold Tablecloth
By Howard C. Schade

At Christmas time, men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a huge miracle -- not exactly.

It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully. Now, the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with hard work and lots of faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.

But, late in December, a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the church -- a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn't hide the ragged hole.

The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, "Thy will be done!" But his wife wept, "Christmas is only two days away!"

That afternoon the dispirited couple attended the auction held for the benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its folds a gloriously beautiful, very ornately sewn, gold and ivory lace tablecloth.

It was a magnificent item, nearly 15 feet long. But it, too, dated from a long vanished era. Who, today, had any use for such a thing? There were a few halfhearted bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea. He bid it in for $6.50.

He carried the glorious gold and ivory lace cloth back to the church and very carefully put it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.

Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. "The bus won't be here for 40 minutes!" he called, and invited her into the church to get warm.

She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy families in town but she had been turned down. A Jewish war refugee, her English was imperfect.

The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up and saw the great gold and ivory cloth. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel.

She looked at the beautiful tablecloth with remembering eyes. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage, but she didn't seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and lovingly rubbed it between her fingers, tears welled in her kind eyes. But they were happy tears of recognition. "It is mine!" she said. "It is my banquet cloth!" She lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. "My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels ! There could not be another like it."

For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese; that being Jews, she and her husband wanted to flee from the Nazis. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland . They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp. "I have always felt that it was my fault -- to leave without him," she said. "Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!" The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the beautiful cloth with her. But she refused saying, "no, no, the cloth has found it's way to you. You need it. It has a purpose here. I want you to have it. I am happy knowing you have it." She gazed lovingly up at the magnificent gold and ivory lace cloth, then quietly went away.

As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the magnificent cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight. The glorious gold and ivory lace cloth actually glowed in the candlelight! It cast lovely fine designs on the walls and ceiling of the church. Everyone looked around in wonderment, and a tranquil ambiance was cast over all.

After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway. Many people told him that the church looked more beautiful than ever before. From the generous donations that were given, a few days later the pastor had the local jeweler who was also the clock-and-watch repairman come to repair the church chimes.

The repairman's gentle middle-aged face drew into a look of great astonishment! As if in a trance he walked right up to the beautiful cloth and looked intently! "It is strange," he said in his soft accent. "Many years ago my wife - God rest her -- and I owned such a cloth. My wife put it on the table" -- and here he gave a big smiled -- "for holidays and when the Rabbi came to dinner."

The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the woman who had been in church to get warm, saw the cloth, and recognized it to be hers! The startled jeweler clutched the pastor's arm. "Can it be?" he said through desperate tears. Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed the woman for the governess position, got her address, then they both drove to the city.

The jeweler knocked on the heavy, weathered, door. As it opened, there stood his beloved wife. The many years of separation were immediately washed away by their blissfully tears, as they held each other in loving embraces, never to be parted again. True love seems to find a way. To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm was to knocked a hole in the wall of the church.

So Dear Ones, the next time something knocks a hole in your dreams, your goals - Just remember to have enough faith, enough belief in those dreams and goals, to lovingly and creatively hang your own brilliant lace cloth over the temporary mar. Then watch the miracles come.

This story was originally written by Howard C. Schade for the December 1954 issue of Reader's Digest. It is a fitting way to get an early start on the upcoming Christmas season.

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