6 Easter – May 10, 2015

John 15:9-17

Last Sunday we heard John speaking about abiding.  Jesus saying, “Abide in me as I abide in you”.  Jesus’ words continue this Sunday with  love and joy – “Remain in my love” and “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete”.

Recall that Jesus says these words just before his crucifixion; just before he goes to the cross.  So, joy appears misplaced in this passage that deals primarily with Jesus’ departure and impending death. Joy seems inappropriate when you are told that the one on whom you have relied for intimacy and belonging will no longer be around. Joy is a marked juxtaposition to the realities that the disciples face — that we face. And maybe that’s the point. Because where is joy in the midst of the hardship Jesus described and in the peril that is sure to come? Where is joy when a primary source of your joy is leaving you? Where is joy when you need it the most? Jesus knows that the presence of joy needs to be heard, needs to be felt, when you face things that assume and anticipate a profound absence of joy.

The Greek words for “grace” and “joy” share the same root. Joy may very well be a feeling of grace, the emotion of grace, even the response to grace. Joy is that indescribable sense when you find yourself experiencing abundant grace. In other words, joy amidst all that was just named, all that you can certainly name in your own life, is not an answer. It is an affirmation. It’s the guarantee of God’s grace when all that is good seems so far away. It’s the security of God’s love when it appears that love is nowhere to be felt, especially from those you thought would love you. It’s the hope that even in the darkest places of separation, God’s abiding and our abiding in God (1:18;13:23) is promised and present.

The image that comes to mind is that of nested dolls–the kind that pull apart to reveal a smaller doll inside–and inside of that doll there is a still smaller doll.  Jesus invites us to obey so that we might abide in him as he abides in the Father.  If we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in the Father, it follows that we also abide in the Father.  The little disciple nestles into the larger Jesus, who then nestles into the great Father.  This series of relationships is made complete as we keep Jesus’ commandments.

Jesus also says today, “You did not choose me, I chose you”.  Not that God’s choosing us is a panacea, as if none of the difficulties of this life matter. It is knowing that God has chosen us, loves us, and will use us that gives us the courage to face the challenges and renews our strength to do something about them.

My colleague, Maria Kane, shares a story:  A little over a month ago, as I attempted to gather my things from my car, I dropped a large bowl of homemade chocolate mousse onto the garage floor. The beautiful blue and white bowl, which a friend had made and given to me as a gift, shattered on the floor as handfuls of mousse drenched my pants and shoes. I was devastated. Whenever I had used the bowl, I always did so in remembrance of the laughter, tears, and secrets we shared with one another over the years. Now, all that remained was a mess for me to clean.

As I later swept up the broken pieces, I kept finding fragments in the most unexpected places—behind a tire on the other side of the car, in the recycling bin, in between the spokes of my bicycle. Restoration seemed like a lost cause, and I was certain there was no way I could put the bowl back together. Still, the pieces were much too beautiful, much too sacred to be tossed into a black, plastic bag.

Weeks later, they now sit in a pile in my spare bedroom. I am not sure what I will make from them—perhaps a smaller bowl, a picture frame, or a piece of art.  No matter what I create, I will do so with love, care, and gratitude, for all that was broken was not lost.

In the midst of the Holy Saturdays of our lives, healing can seem impossible and far off—just like those broken pieces of pottery splayed across my garage floor appeared to me. Yet, the resurrection of Jesus declares that it’s not over for any of us. We may emerge from those periods different from who we were before, but it is through our brokenness that healing and resurrection springs forth. The 50 days of Easter call us to live the truth of the resurrection’s power—to bring forth life from death, to make that which was broken whole. Such living is courageous, death-defying, and countercultural. But once our souls have walked through the dark nights of brokenness we can’t go back to who we were before—before the hand of God touched us in tenderness, before the creativity of God renewed us, before the love of Christ blessed and redeemed us into beauty.

You probably know the story of when someone asked Luther what he would do if the world were going to end tomorrow. He replied that he would plant a tree today. The future is God’s, a gift given, like joy, to God’s beloved children. Let us live this week in that word and promise so that, while we are invited to abide and obey and choose and all of that is certainly good advice, we also hear and receive the good news that God has chosen us…once and for all.

And, not to forget..it is Mother’s Day. A day with US origins going back to 1870, when Julia Ward Howe – an abolitionist best remembered as the poet who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – worked to establish a Mother’s Peace Day. Howe dedicated the celebration to the eradication of war, and organized festivities in Boston for years.  In 1907, Anna Jarvis, of Philadelphia, began the campaign to have Mother’s Day officially recognized, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson did this, proclaiming it a national holiday and a “public expression of our love and reverence for all mothers.”

The fact of the matter is that Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for many people, for many reasons.  Let’s acknowledge that and express our love, God’s abiding love, in ways that acknowledge the many different experiences:  Amy Young writes a wonderful prayer for the day:

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be

To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.