When Jill was little we read a book together in which a child and parent described their love as reaching to the moon and back. Expanding on that theme, throughout her childhood and well into her adolescence, Karen and I and Jill would challenge one another, declaring our love as extending, not just to the moon, but beyond it. In fact, we’d continue expanding the boundary until one of us couldn’t go any farther, and we’d dissolve into giggles.
I found myself thinking about that this week, as we’ve been contemplating together that verse from John 13, one of the first things we heard read during this service of the 3 days: Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
I think I was particularly struck by this, because I’ve been walking the slow walk toward death with a couple people. One died on Monday, the other has been slowly slipping toward death for over a year. Accompanying people who are dying and their loved ones along the path toward death is never easy, and it’s never the same process. Everyone is different. Every family has its own stuff that they’re either working through, or avoiding having to work through.
Honestly, ministry around, and at the time of death is both the most rewarding and the most challenging ministry to do. People are raw. Emotions are often laid bare. And for those who accompany those who are dying, and those who are grieving, it can be a rather heavy psychic burden.
People tend to speak more than they ought to around death – They offer platitudes, empty little catch-phrases like: God needed another angel, or He’s in a better place now, or, and this is one of the worst, I know just what you’re going through, which is usually followed by that person dumping their stuff on the person who’s grieving right then. And I get why we do this. I mean, we want to connect. We want to offer something of meaning in the face of death. Well, then, how about this…? Having loved his own, Jesus loved us to the end!
Only, when we’re talking about Jesus, there is no end! The end becomes a new beginning! Death becomes the gateway to a whole new and eternal life in, and through, and with Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ!
We have gathered tonight on this night when we remember that anything worth saying is worth saying slowly, and deliberately, and with great care. And like my family declaring our love to the moon, no, to the moon and back, no, past the moon to Mars and back, no, to the end of the solar system and back, no, to… well, you get the point, this night, in fact, this whole service of the 3 days, has been about declaring in ever more expanded fashion the saving love of our God
- who shines as a blazing light in the gathering darknesses of our lives,
- who made everything that is, and loves everything that’s made,
- who never fails to make a way, even when there seems to be no way
- who delivers Noah and his family through the flood
- who provides a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place
- who leads the people out of Egypt, passing through the sea on dry land
- who calls us all to come and eat and drink without money and without price
- who calls the simple to come and feast at Wisdom’s table
- who places within us each a new heart and new spirit
- who revives our dried up bones,
- gathers us together,
- reverses our fortunes,
- and becomes, himself, our everlasting home
- who delivers us, like the three Hebrew children, from life’s greatest challenges!
Having loved his own, Jesus has loved us to the end, with a love that
- claims us in the waters of Holy Baptism
- that leads us throughout our lives
- that surrounds us in our most difficult times
- that holds us through death and into eternity in the light of God’s loving presence!
This is the message we carry into a world that is marred by sin and death
- where people still suffer
- where people still get sick
- where people still die
- where people think its ok to storm a college and kill as many people as they can in the name of God
- where people who hold power think its ok to misuse and abuse that power for their own gain
- where those in power think its ok to balance budgets on the backs of the poor, or to deny opportunities to individuals because of where they’re born, or the color of their skin, or their gender or sexual orientation
- where we still can’t seem to conceive of any better way to resolve issues between nations and people than through force, power and violence.
Into this world marred by sin and death we carry the truth we’ve spoken in these three days,
- that by his dying and rising Christ Jesus has conquered sin and death once and for all!
- that God in Christ who has loved us, and will love us to the end, is still the God who makes a way where there seems to be no way!
And in the face of this most wonderful good news, I can think of nothing better for us to say than the words the Church has spoken at this feast for ages:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!