Richmond Hill United Church
July 24, 2005
by Heather Burton

Weaving the Tapestry

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Mt. 13:31ff), like a field of wheat and weeds growing together (Mt. 13:24ff), or again like a treasure hidden in a field and purchased with one’s life’s riches (Mt. 13:44ff). The kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price (Mt. 13:46), like a net thrown into the sea (Mt. 13: 47), like a bit of yeast that leavens the loaf (Mt. 13:33ff). Matthew likens the kingdom of heaven to a king who judges the harsh actions of his servants (Mt.18:23ff) or the excuses of the guests he has invited to the banquet (Mt. 22:2ff). The kingdom of heaven is like all of these stories, all of these images.

One of my favourite images is missing. In fact, in searching for the metaphor of the loom and the weaver, I found it was absent not only from the parables, Jesus’ colourful teaching tools, but it was difficult to find anywhere in the Bible. The Exodus passage I read is one of the few references to weaving that I could find.

It’s strange because weaving is evident in other ancient myths and fables. One example, though not about the kingdom of heaven, is the mythological story of the contest between the goddess Athena (Minerva to the Romans) and the mortal woman Arachne. According to Ovid’s version in Metamorphoses (Book VI), Arachne lived in the country of Lydia, which had a legendary reputation for producing some of the most splendid textiles in the ancient world. Arachne matured into one of the finest weavers ever known, and, unfortunately, one of the more arrogant, claiming that her ability rivaled that of the goddess Athena. Athena, affronted, travelled to Lydia, assumed the guise of an old peasant, and after an unheeded gentle warning, challenged Arachne to a contest.

They would each compete by creating a tapestry. When Arachne's skill did indeed equal that of the goddess, Athena, overwhelmed by anger, struck the hapless woman repeatedly. Terrified, Arachne attempted to hang herself, but Athena transformed the woman into a spider who quickly scurried off. As you can tell by Arachne’s name, her tapestries are still in evidence as busy spiders continue to weave.

I have been fascinated by weaving for some time. Those many-coloured threads being moved in a mysterious, synchronistic way are mesmerizing in the same way as an open fire hypnotizes and holds my gaze. Slowly, slowly the design is revealed in the weaving. 

A new parable, then… The kingdom of God is like the weaving of a tapestry. Each thread adds its own colour and shine and texture. Even the broken and knotted ones add creatively to the overall effect, and the tapestry would not be the same without them. The warp, which is all but invisible as the pattern begins to take shape, is vital in strengthening and sustaining the whole. The weaver works with patience and attention and skill, and the tapestries of whole, living communities are revealed, scene by scene.

True tapestry is defined by the structure of the weave. In the strict sense, tapestry describes a handwoven material in which the design forms an integral part of the textile. The warp (threads placed on the loom) is a skeletal structure in that it disappears completely beneath the weft (yarns that make up the pictorial weave). The image is made up of numerous discontinuous wefts along each row and the weft threads are woven area by area, shape by shape, as opposed to other woven forms where the weft travels from edge to edge across the width of the warp. The Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the story of the Norman Conquest of 1066, is a series of separate scenes which form a piece 20” wide and stretching 230’ long. Tapestry is a time consuming and exacting hand weaving process, achieved section by section, scene by scene.

The kingdom of heaven is like a tapestry… and what is the kingdom of heaven? Is it some place and time far removed from our present earthly experience? Perhaps. But Paul says that we are to live “as if the kingdom of heaven has come…”. As the body of Christ, we live as if the kingdom is here… and now. The Church, the community of faith, is a small glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. It is the “here and now” version of what we imagine the kingdom of heaven to be. We work at making this a little microcosm of the kingdom in our midst. We weave together the threads of our gifts and skills to form a piece of God’s tapestry in this place.

We have woven part of a story, you and I. For five years, we have woven a unique scene in the tapestry of RHUC. It is woven through with brilliant, jewelled colours; with jarring clashes of rough-textured thread; with pale, wispy fibers almost imperceptible but adding an essential element to the whole; with colours of joy and sadness; of harmony and discord; of grieving and of celebration. Some threads have been dropped along the way, through death or loss or change; some have been added as the tapestry developed.

The tapestry will go on. What the next scene will be we don’t know yet; but this particular section of it is almost completed. We will continue to weave, you and I, at a distance from each other, but still within the community of God’s church. The words of Carolyn McDade’s “Song of Community” remind us that even when we are apart, we weave parts of that same kingdom of heaven:

We'll weave a love that greens sure as spring
Then deepens in summer to the fall autumn brings.
Resting still in winter to spiral again
Together my friends we'll weave on, we'll weave on
A love that heals friend, that bends, friend
That rising and turning then yields, friend
Like the mountain to rain or frost in the spring
Or darkness that turns with the dawn
It's by turning, turning, turning, my friend
By turning that love moves on.
We'll weave a love that opens our eyes
To see one another beyond all disguise
Where our trust like water will wash away lies
Together my friends we'll weave on, we'll weave on.