When I was a little boy early in the 1950s I used to love to do something, anything really, that would surprise and/or confuse my grandmother, who would then respond by saying. "Stop it," and then calling me by the name of every other male member of the family until she got to my name as the youngest grandchild: “Herb, Tommy, Marvin, Bobby!” When I was lucky she’d even bring in my mother’s cousins “Wilfred, Harold, Clifford!” In any case it always ended in laughter. And whoever I was, I was a member of the family.
But this list got bigger as I got older. I remember being told I was like my father because I like to read, like my mother because I was funny, like my uncle Herb because I was intelligent and sometimes sarcastic, and like my aunt Mildred because I could have a temper. “What can I say?” I responded when I was around nine, “I’m like the whole 'fan damily.'” Which got a laugh even though it was pretty racy for 1955.
I thought of this today because we celebrate a major family feast tonight, remembering our ancestor, the apostle John who, the tradition tells us, wrote the fourth Gospel as well as the epistles that carry his name. St John, the beloved friend of Jesus, who followed the Lord to the cross, to the empty tomb, to the resurrection, who some would remember we form writing the Revelation to John and others would emphasise had provided a home at Ephesus for the Virgin Mary until the end of her life on earth. Anyway he is worth celebrating.
Nowadays we tend look at our ancestors with 21st-century eyes and sometimes that does us a disservice. We want all the facts -- like we get from the newspapers or the Internet, but that keeps us from seeing the most important thing, choosing the best part: which is that they look like us, we look like them, we are members of the same family.
That means we’re like Martha, who worked hard to be helpful and hospitable and sometimes got caught in details, like Mary who listened intently and let it be with her according to God’s word, like Peter, who listened too little and talked too much and eventually and surprising grew up to be a good and godly man, like Paul who was born too late and could be incredibly argumentative and high maintenance yet came to see God’s sunrise and resurrection making the whole world new by the blinding, renewing, reminding grace he saw in the lightning love of Jesus. Even finally like John who knew the word of God, Jesus Christ, the love of God in the flesh, Jesus who came to pitch his tent in the middle of our human being, loving us deeply with the mighty love of God and the intimate breath of the spirit in a way that still passes all our human understanding
It’s sort of like what I told my grandmother in 1955, “we are members of the same blessed family” and they are members of us, there and then as well as here and now: joining us on the journey and accompanying us all the way so that we can to find the way back, calling us to be members of the clan, to enjoy the great family reunion, this great feast of love here and now. That’s what it means to be the church!
And they’re all here: apostles and martyrs and saints and strangers; ancestors and descendants, parents and sons and daughters and cousins, aunts and uncles and others we hardly remember and perhaps never knew. People we thought were lost all found, all gathering round, all rejoicing in God’s loving word of compassion, this Jesus who comes to be a sign and sacrament, the way, the truth, the life of who we are and who we will always be – the beloved of God.
As I get older my memory goes, and my memory for names was never very good, but I know who you are, and I know who I am, because I see the family resemblance –- see love lighting us up as it enlightened St John, so that as, St Augustine says, in the gathering actions of this Eucharist we behold what we see and become what we are: God’s self giving gift, the spirit of love, the body of Christ.