This weekend makes sixteen and a half years since my mother died. She passed away in California on October 4, the feast of St. Francis and the beginning of the Northern Autumn, at the age of 81, after a few years of chronic and increasing illness and disability. In many ways her end with a quick heart attack was a release. But it was also a beginning, and, in a way I cannot quite describe, since her death our relationship has grown and I've learned things from her, and about her love for me as my mother, that I hadn't seen while she was still with me.
You wouldn’t know to look at me that I can be a perfectionist. But as a boy — from the age of seven or eight — every summer I would spend days at time practicing my diving at the local swimming pool; and it was very important to me than my mother saw me doing the perfect dive from the board. I could get quite nervous about it, starting to approach the end of the board and stopping and saying, “No let me try that again!” and she always waited and watched and told me I was wonderful. I didn't get consistently good grades in school either but when I got good comments on tests or written papers I would bring them home to her and she always shared my delight. Even when I was in my thirties I remember her coming to hear me preach at the Cathedral in San Francisco at a Sunday Evensong and being almost impatient for her praise: that I had done my best and that my best was good enough.
It was only after she died, looking back at the long years of laughter, good and quiet conversations, loud misunderstandings, tears and reconciliations, triumphs and tragedies, — all the intimate weaving that goes into any deep relationship— : it was only in looking back at those years and taking some time that I realised that she didn't just love me when I was doing my best. She loved me all the time: when I was fearful, or undisciplined, or rebellious or just bad. When I was wasting time – and my God I wasted so much time! — her love was timeless, her patience was inexhaustible, her faith and hope and love for me knew no bounds. And I don't think I ever saw that, ever knew how true that was, until she had gone on.
When Jesus becomes flesh, enters into the human journey with each and every one of us, he does so to love us through all our days, and I think that is sometimes difficult to believe. Love that lasts not just in the love feasts or the healings, not just the joy on top of the mountains. but in the flat and falling times, in breakdowns as well as breakthroughs, when things don’t go well, in waste and void and fear of failure. In his human life Jesus presents a love that joins us in every gain or loss all the days of our lives.
I think that's why he's born as a fragile baby in an unimportant village somewhere on the other side whatever town looks to be the middle of nowhere for you. He comes to be nearer than our nearest neighbour, from, as Wystan Auden puts it, the “ranches of isolation and the busy griefs…, [to those] Raw towns that we believe and die in.” Jesus Christ joins us in each and every aspect of our lives and just as a mother feels for the children she has born, so the Lord has mercy, and love, and infinite compassion for the children whom he knows from the inside. Those children for whom, like a mother hen, he would spread his wings offering protection, compassion, and comfort in times of trouble, in any time, important and unimportant, feast and failure, good deed and disaster, in every moment of our living and our dying.
Jesus joins the human family to show us that God’s love can meet us in the real and final fragility of being flesh and blood. In Him we see love closer than our very breath, God’s breath in our lungs, God’s love in our life. Jesus joins us in our incomplete journey so that we may know our end in light of his living-dying-rising love.
So even when we come to the end of the story, to the ends of our lives, to the end of all the things we knew, even and especially when we don’t know what comes next, Jesus joins us to share the inside story all the way through. Jesus joins us in the end of all endings and into a new beginning where love will never end, where death will have no dominion. And in our deepest vulnerability Jesus unveils God’s love in the last place we would look.
This story we work though this week - when we hear the story of Jesus's entrance into Jerusalem, his trial, his passion and pain, his long trip to the tomb - is enough to break our heart. But if we let this story, this seed of God settle into our soul it can ripen to break open a new Hope, rise up in a surprising love that endures, for Jesus joins us in our incomplete journey with his unfinished love and is living proof that, as Dame Julian tells us: “all shall be well, and all show be well, and all manners of things shall be well,”
Thomas Merton wrote a prayer such some years ago that I think Jesus might have prayed on a day like today. We might pray it too:
Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.
In the name of Christ. Amen.