May 6, 2018 – 6 Easter
John 15:9-17; Julian of Norwich
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
Six hundred and forty-five years ago a woman in England began to have visions of Christ. She was ill – it was thought near death – and her priest held a crucifix before her eyes. She saw blood trickling down the face of Jesus. That was the first of her sixteen visions. The woman was Julian of Norwich. On our liturgical calendar we honor Julian this Tuesday, May 8th.
Julian did not die then, but lived for many years as an anchoress, or holy solitary, in a cell attached to a parish church in Norwich, England. She reflected deeply on her visions and left a written record of both her visions and her reflections, in a work known as “Showings,” or “Revelations of Divine Love.” This work has comforted and inspired unknown numbers of Christians. Julian has been especially important to women because she so beautifully adds the feminine to our images and metaphors for God.
You may be startled to hear what Julian writes about Jesus: “Jesus Christ, who opposes good to evil, is our true Mother. We have our being from Him, where the foundation of motherhood begins, with all the sweet protection of love which endlessly follows. As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother. … Our true Mother Jesus bears us for joy and for endless life, blessed may He be. … Our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with Himself, and does, most courteously and most tenderly, with the blessed sacrament [the Eucharist], which is the precious food of true life.”
This may sound startling to us because we are used to the image of God as Father, not Jesus as Mother. But Julian is saying just what we affirm in our creeds and in our liturgy – that all things came to being through Jesus Christ, that through Jesus we have eternal life and joy, that Christ feeds us with his body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. What she adds is a dimension of tenderness and sweetness in the love of Jesus that we are not always aware of. Bless her for that.
In the church we affirm the truth that God may be revealed to us through other human beings and in relationship with other human beings. We believe this to be possible in our families and friendships and especially in groups of Christians gathered together in the church. In these relationships we have the opportunity to live with others in love, in compassion. We have the opportunity to live out what we call the Golden Rule, “to do to others what we would have them do to us,” by serving others that they might grow and flourish. God may be revealed in human relationships and in the lives of individual human beings. In the church we celebrate that fact, for example, when we bless two people joining their lives in Holy Matrimony.
In the church we may find friends, holy friends, people whose lives exhibit love, compassion, and service to others. People who help us grow and flourish, who inspire us by their faithfulness and courage. People who have flaws, of course, but who show us something of God’s love and of what it means to live as a person made in the image of God, a child of God.
Mark Cooper was just such a holy friend to many of us. We were blessed to be his companions for a time. Do you know the origin of the word “companion”? The Latin words from which this word is derived mean “together with” and “bread.” A companion is someone with whom we break and share bread. We have shared bread with Mark so often over the years – at Community Suppers, Country Fairs, parish dinners, coffee hours, and most important, at the altar, often sharing the bread of the Eucharist baked by his wife, Amy.
When such a companion leaves us and goes home to God, we are right to grieve and be sad for ourselves and for all the people who love Mark, especially Amy and Gabrielle, for whom Mark’s loss is most profound. Though we grieve, our faith teaches us to honor Mark’s memory in our own lives by living generously and with compassion and love. And our faith teaches us to give thanks for the blessing of Mark’s companionship and to rejoice that he is now in closer companionship with our truest friend, Jesus.
Julian of Norwich expanded our language about God and the relationship between God and human beings when she described Jesus as our true Mother. In today’s passage from the Gospel of John Jesus expands our language about the relationship between God and human beings. He says to his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Jesus calls us his friends. He proposes a new relationship of equality with his disciples, a shift from servant and master (or student and teacher) to friend and friend. He offers his disciples this new relationship of equality and intimacy, but there is a condition: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” And what does Jesus command? “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
There is one condition or commandment in our relationship with God – and it is a commandment voiced over and over again in Holy Scripture – love. It is love that binds Jesus to the Father. It is love that binds us to Jesus. It is love that binds us to one another. Jesus teaches us that love is the very essence and content of his relationship with the Father. Love is the commandment of God. Jesus has made this known to his disciples, to us.
In his Gospel Mark reports an occasion when Jesus was teaching. “Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35).
If we abide in the love of Christ and choose to live with compassion and in active service of one another, then we may enjoy a closeness with God that is beyond the deepest of human relationships we might have. Jesus explains that his invitation to abide in his love is “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Jesus, our true Mother, offers us all that is good.
Now, let us pray again the Collect on the front of your bulletin inserts:
“O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”