Happy Mother’s Day! What a lovely day this promises to be, though we really could use the rain.
I was fortunate enough to have spent time yesterday in Steamboat Rock with my family—my mom’s side—my aunts and uncles, cousins, my grandmother, my parents who came down from Wisconsin, and my middle child, who is my first daughter and mother to two of my grandsons. All told, we had FIVE generations present, and I feel grateful that my grandsons have gotten to spend time with their great-great grandmother. I feel thankful to God for the time spent with my family.
On my drive home, my thoughts ranged from my family (and friends) to this week’s lessons, upon which I’ve been meditating all week, especially the Gospel and the reading from 1 John. As you may or may not have figured out about me as I’ve been preaching among you for the last few months is that one of my passions is looking for the spiritual in pop culture and literature sources. And so, being my parents’ child and a product of my time, lyrics from a Beatles’ song popped into my head after reading the Gospel, which uses the word “love,” a total of nine times and contains Christ’s greatest commandment to his disciples, and through them, to us, part of which is to “abide in my love.”
Now the Beatles’ song that popped into my head is not the one that you might think is the obvious choice: “All You Need is Love,” though a line from that song has been in my head for other reasons that I won’t go into today. No, the lyrics I’ve been playing, both in my head and on my car’s CD player, are from “Across the Universe” and they go like this: “Limitless undying love / which shines around me like a million suns/ and draws me on and on / across the universe.” As this song was written while they were in their Maharishi phase, John Lennon, who wrote the lyrics, quite possibly was not thinking in Christian terms. But he captured, for me, a large part of the essence of the words Christ uses: “abide in my love” and “love each other as I have loved you.”
And so this week, I’ve been amazed by the intensity of this love and how many ways in which it manifests itself—echoing over and over. When I first listened to this song a couple of months ago on my trip to Texas–I actually hadn’t been really familiar with it prior to then other than knowing it was a Beatles song; the cover of it I’ve been listening to is by Rufus Wainwright, who has a marvelous voice. But I digress. When I listened to these lyrics, I thought in terms of that all-encompassing love from God, but a higher, abstract love—an epic love, if you will. However, over the last months, including yesterday, I considered all the more concrete, down-to-earth examples I’ve seen recently: a friend who is busy, stressed, angry, and tired from the situation in his department and on campus at the university where he works and from an intense job search, yet willing to answer texts sent at inopportune moments and to “scheme” (his word) in order to help me see a way along the next stage of my path; parents who show their love and support, even offering to come up and help me go through all my stuff—a daunting task; children who take the time to worry about and support their siblings; cousins and parents who drive five hours ONE way just to spend a few hours with family. I hope and pray that you are all finding examples of this in your own lives as I’m speaking. THIS is limitless undying love shining around each of us, in so many little ways; that in which God, through Christ, is calling for us to abide. In one of this week’s meditations in the Forward Day-by-Day, the author noted that the word “abide” (a word we don’t use much any longer) is not quite the the best translation of the original Greek word, which apparently conveys a sense of intertwining, of intimate connection.
I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with Julian of Norwich, whose feast day was this past Tuesday (and I’m sure I’m not the only one referencing her in a sermon today). She was a fourteenth-century mystic and anchoress, who was possibly the first woman who wrote a book in the English language—I love her. I think she got it right in many ways when she expanded on others’ ideas of Christ being as a mother to us. I’m still working on understanding her writings, but I believe that she could see, using our limited language and ways of seeing, that the metaphor of motherhood made for an excellent, easily understood way of sharing her vision of our relationship with Christ, with God—that limitless, intimate connection that we share with our mothers. Julian was a wise woman—I would highly recommend reading her work.
As we consider today’s Gospel and Christ’s command to love one another, as he has raised us to be friends, brothers, sisters to himself and to each other, as we go forth, let us remember this joy. This faith in God’s love, that he is father and mother to us all, is that which helps us to conquer the world, not in terms of violence, not in epic ways, but by conquering our own little and big fears with that knowledge of God’s love, shown in so many aspects through those who love us. Then we can carry that love forward to others, whether biologically related to us or not; this is what draws us on and on—across the universe. Amen.
Given at St. James Episcopal Church, Independence, Iowa
Readings from the Revised Common Lectionary: