“By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…” (I Peter 1:3-4)
I am working this out still, I know I am, but here it is. Here is part of my own family story. It is part of my family’s ‘inheritance,’ if you will.
A few years ago I met a new cousin. Well, new to me, to all of us, I should say, but not new to the world for by now she was approaching sixty years of age.
She was and is the only daughter — the only child, I should say — of my mother’s younger brother.
Only his marriage with her mother fell apart in the wake of alcoholism and rage and violence, it seems. I did not fully know this until recently. And of course, I do not fully know the import of this now, for it is not my story. And yet, I surely knew the consequences. I knew it meant estrangement and distance and suffering and this truth that there was an empty space where the face of a first cousin should have been.
For when her mother left— no doubt an especially courageous thing to do more than half a century ago— she vowed to keep her child from all of us, for she was committed to ensuring her daughter’s safety and any contact with anyone connected could threaten that. So she did. And it is so that she may well have been right to do so. Watch the news any day of the week and you will see the tragic outcomes that too often marks such as this when one does not do as she did.
I am told that she was in school with another cousin, hers and mine, and that at some point they made the connection and it did not end well. Other than that, however, she had been a mere shadow to the children and grandchildren of Avery and Mabel — someone we had heard of and knew existed as in ‘Your Uncle had one child. I wonder what ever became of her…” — until these last few years. For not so long ago when she found herself standing in a line at a funeral home near one of our aunts, apparently she turned to her and said, “You don’t know me, but I am your niece. You are my aunt.” And from there she came to meet the rest of us — face to face a couple of times at funerals and the like, but also through the daily means of social media. Perhaps surprisingly, our shared exchanges have been open and kind — this, no doubt, is more a testament to her courage and fortitude and generosity than mine or ours. For other than her mother, she was surely the one most wounded.
And so it is that I find myself struck again today at what we inherit from those who go before us. I never knew my uncle well, but he was part of us — as was and is his daughter — but because of what happened more than half a century ago — we have not been able to know or appreciate this. One cannot help but wonder at all that has been lost between us and among us as a result. And so, yes, until not long ago this was our inheritance…
And so it is that I am drawn today to the words of St. Peter and the gift he offers now: that because of what took place on that First Easter, this inheritance passed along to you and me and all the world is Imperishable. Undefiled. And Unfading. Not broken this gift, no not at all. Not an inheritance marked by violence and estrangement and distance. But one that brings us together. One that always brings us together, healing that which is broken between us — even wounds as old or older than we are. And oh, isn’t it a wonder that this inheritance promises to make whole even those broken inheritances we receive in this life?
So maybe it is so that these inheritances passed on to us from those who have gone before can be altered even now. For isn’t it so that this inheritance makes itself known in the simple, courageous action of someone standing in a funeral line and turning to another and saying, “You don’t know me, but I am your niece. You are my aunt.” For in doing so she took the first step towards healing that which had long been broken. In doing so she was a reflection of the gift of new life and new hope we celebrate every day, every Sunday, but especially in this Easter Season!
Oh yes, this inheritance does make itself known in a courageous effort such as this where a hand of peace was extended in a place where there had been only estrangement. In the powerful willingness to risk and to step into a new future not solely defined by what has been passed along to us from human hands, but is wondrously transformed by the gift of hope and healing which is ours with the marvelous gift of this inheritance. For if God defeated death that first Easter, he surely can and will defeat that which deals death between us and among us even now.
I have seen this in my own family and I am grateful.
- How about you? Where and how have you seen this inheritance reshape or alter the other inheritances which are yours?
- What would it mean if we were each and all of us able to step out in courage and hope, even in spite of our wounds, to close a gap which has separated us from one another for too long? How would that be a reflection of the inheritance which is ours with Easter?
If you are planning to preach on the John text this Sunday, you might visit past reflections I have shared in this space, including: