As I write, I’m told we had a ‘supermoon’ this week-end. My understanding is that a ‘supermoon’ occurs when in its full moon stage, the moon passes as close to the earth as it possibly can, making it appear to be significantly larger than it usually does. It’s always the same size of course, but on nights like these we simply get a better view. Unless of course you’re under cloud cover as we were out here west of Chicago over the last couple of nights. The moon was and is still there of course. And it is the same size whether we see it or not. Only sometimes we do actually get to see it in a way that might just alter our view of the universe.
I had an experience like that earlier this week… where something that has, no doubt, always been true, was mine to see in a way that I was able to hear more deeply Jesus’ words for us today… especially this business where he elevates the love we are to hold for one another to the place of actually ‘laying down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Not that there was anything nearly that dramatic in what I witnessed. In fact, I expect most would say it was a small thing.
For you see, I stopped to make a visit at a local nursing home on Monday: the sort of place where there can be a whole lot of this kind of sacrificial, day-after-day loving demonstrated for others. Only what I’m thinking of now was the kind one sees from time to time between residents.
This is how it went. One of our members had spent a couple of days in the hospital. I heard that she was ‘home’ so I wanted to check on her.
I walked the length of the building to her room and when I arrived, I found her sitting in her wheelchair out in the hallway. She told me it’s ‘her place’ for from there she can see who’s coming and going.
Not that she can see much anymore and for that matter, her hearing is failing, too. Indeed, by now it seems, her entire physical being has been diminished by various illnesses and ailments. This was not always so, of course. For while I have only been her pastor for a short time now, we knew one another a long time ago when we served on Synod Council together. I was a young pastor then and she was in her prime. Perhaps one has to squint a little to see it now, but I remember her being a ‘force’ all her own. In fact, if you walk into her shared room today you will see displayed on the wall various plaques and awards she received for her service in the community hanging alongside photographs of children and grandchildren. She doesn’t talk about the awards though… those grandchildren, however, are always the subject of much joyful conversation.
And so it was I caught up with her on Monday to find her sitting outside her room and for the next ten minutes or so we visited about various matters… her health, of course. Her children and grandchildren. The state of the congregation that has been her home for so long. All through our conversation her failing eyes were scanning the people going by, nodding and calling many by name. After a time, though, since we were approaching the dinner hour she asked if I would wheel her down the hall to the dining room.
As we rolled along she told me that normally at this time of day she’s playing cards with others. And she said that since she can’t see so well anymore, a friend sits next to her and helps her play her hand. “We win some and we lose some,” she said, ‘but it really doesn’t much matter.” I was surprised to find her tone was not one of resignation. Instead, she spoke with a kind of bemused contentment. For her, the point was no longer the game itself, but the friends sitting next to her.
Perhaps she was always this way, although I have to wonder. Certainly at some point in some parts of her life ‘winning and losing’ must have mattered to her. But no more. By now time and age and disease had whittled her world down to what is really essential. She has been blessed to see the ‘supermoon’ in a way perhaps she couldn’t before.
I thought of this as I was considering Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel before us now. And while often, to be sure, ‘laying down one’s life for one’s friends’ is dramatic and profound, perhaps it is also as simple as helping another to play a hand of cards when her senses don’t allow her to do what she once would have done without thinking. And not just once, but afternoon after afternoon after afternoon. It doesn’t bear the sort of fruit the world might measure. But it is fruit all the same. The sort that builds up one many would rather ignore or avoid. The sort that stands still in the presence of and loves in simple and profound ways one whom the world would hardly count any more.
And of course, this is what Jesus did over and over again in his ministry. Whether it was the hemorrhaging woman or the man born blind or a group of lepers who had been cut off from the world as they had known it, over and over again, Jesus’ gifts were known in amazing ways in the most unlikely of places among often the most unsavory of people. Even at the end we hear him making astounding promises to the thief who hung dying next to him. Jesus, who calls us friends, would have us do the same, it seems to me.
Now I know my story of a nursing home visit may seem to be a small thing, but that half an hour with one who has learned so deeply and well the lessons of what matters most will stay with me for some time. As will the image of her neighbor and friend playing her hand of cards day after day. So that win or lose, she will have a place at the table, too. Those images will stay with me for a time, and when they fade, I will do well to back and call on her again. And if I’m honest, I expect that next visit will do me as much good as it does her, if not more.
What have been ‘supermoon’ moments for you? What has enabled you to see and understand things you couldn’t before?
Can you think of examples of ‘laying down one’s life for one’s friends?’ Are they ordinary or extraordinary or both?
What do you think Jesus is thinking of when he urgest us to go and bear fruit? What does that fruit look like in our world today?
In this country, next Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day. How are you considering tying Jesus’ words to the occasion?