The Gold and Ivory 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 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 paint,
hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to
But late in December a severe storm whipped through
the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little 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 handsome 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 cloth back to the church and tacked 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 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 as
the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the
hole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel. She
looked at the tablecloth. 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 rubbed it between her fingers.
"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
For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor
talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese; that she
and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave the country.
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 cloth with her. She refused. Then she went
As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was
clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been
skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight.
After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway.
Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced
middle-aged man -- he was the local clock-and-watch repairman -- looked
"It is strange," he said in his soft accent.
"Many years ago my wife - God rest her -- and I owned such a cloth.
In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table" -- and here he
smiled -- "only when the bishop came to dinner."
The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the
jeweler about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The
startled jeweler clutched the pastor's arm. "Can it be? Does she
Together the two got in touch with the family who had
interviewed her. Then, in the pastor's car they started for the city.
And as Christmas Day was born, this man and his wife, who had been
separated through so many saddened Yule tides, were reunited.
To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the
storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite
clear. Of course, people said it was a miracle, but I think you will
agree it was the season for it!