I was leaving the hospital on Friday afternoon.
As I walked through the lobby, a long time acquaintance stopped me and told me to be careful out there.
“I always am,” I replied, not realizing that her words of caution were more than a general farewell.
It seemed that there had been some kind of event in the parking lot. She said there was a man moving among and between the cars who had threatened suicide.
I hesitated for a minute, noting the heavy security presence outside when she said, “But of course, you’ll be fine,” indicating the clerical collar I was wearing as though that would serve as some kind of protection.
I did step outside, stopping to greet the young men in their security uniforms with their hand held radios. They assured me that all was fine and that I would be more than safe getting to my car.
And as I went, I shook my head at the thought that some would believe that you and I who seek to follow Jesus in a public way, ‘uniform and all,’ would somehow be granted some kind of special protection. Especially as we consider the words of Jesus now as he predicts his own suffering and death and as he reminds us all that the way toward fullness of life is always a way of sacrifice, of losing, of death of one sort or another, even actually death itself.
I expect that you who are parents and grandparents know something of this first hand — of what it is to give up for the sake of another, to set your own needs aside so that another might flourish. Of what it is to witness how in your small every-day dying, another’s life is strengthened, even made possible . And I believe that this is a kind of cross bearing, don’t you, or at least a living illustration of what it might be, and can be and often is. Indeed, sometimes it is precisely this as we find our old sense of who we were being whittled away and into something even more capable of bearing or even ‘being’ love. For me I had an almost physical sense of what this was day after day a bit later in life when my aging mother moved in with me and as I was called upon to tend her, often putting her needs ahead of my own. Some days I could almost feel it physically reshaping me as I learned to be and do for the sake of another, often in small things. And while I am always not sure yet how it has led to ‘life,’ I am fairly confident it made hers better right until the end.
And yes, sometimes it is hard to see, how life is gained in the wake of death, especially as we find ourselves still on the journey.
I think, for instance, of one I know who in an early evening late in May, felt the nudge to go outside to check on her neighbor.
As she made her way down the road, she knew that something was terribly amiss for she could see a heap lying on the road. In a way no one cannot yet understand, her neighbor had been thrown from her ATV which she often used for chores. Her five year old was still strapped in, having witnessed it all.
The one who came upon her then called the local fire department and demanded a helicopter. They knew her. They sent one.
The one she sought to rescue would die a few days later.
All of her usable organs were given away. (As we said to one another then, the worst day of their lives, was the best one imaginable for at least five other families.)
A family and a host of friends were left to grieve an unspeakable loss.
And this one in particular carries in her bones the experience of moving toward such visible suffering and not away from it, of seeing what no one of us alive ever hopes to witness, of still now wondering at its meaning. She probably will for the rest of her life. And even now, those of us alongside seek to remind her that she did what she could and that her quick action at least gave the family a little time to come to terms with it, to grieve together before life support was removed. And there was ‘life’ in that, in a way.
She picked up her cross.
- Not because she planned to or wanted to.
- But because the need was before her and she moved toward it instead of away from it.
- And I expect she will always have a place in a five year old’s life as that small one grows even more deeply into this experience of also seeing something no one, least of all a five year old, should ever see.
But now while the images and the grief are still fresh, it is hard to see how life comes from this. From any of this.
Except in those individuals and families who were given another chance.
Except, perhaps, in her knowing she did what she could as she moved toward suffering and not away from it.
Indeed, this business of denying ourselves and picking up our crosses and following after Jesus is always this, isn’t it?
As Jesus did, it is always for the sake of love.
No, to follow Jesus is not to be protected from one another’s pain, or even our own.
- It is, however, to experience lives of deeper meaning, it seems to me, as we walk toward it and not away from it.
- And it is to know that pain transformed and somehow deepened as we pick up those crosses in love and service.
- It is, in my experience to know ourselves changed into ones able to love even more deeply.
- Indeed, the promise in today’s Gospel is that it is to realize any life that ultimately matters at all.
And so, I wonder with you now:
- How do you hear this call today to deny ourselves for the sake of life and love?
- Where have you witnessed or experienced the truth of the gift and promise of Jesus’ example and Jesus’ call today?
- How are those you are called into the midst of hearing this now, individually and as a community of faith?