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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Abide in my love



A Sermon preached for Easter VI 
Rogation Sunday - Mother's Day
May 9, 2021
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Facebook Live Broadcast - Sirach 26:10

That’s what Jesus said. And, he said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and thatyour joy may be complete. He also said, I am giving you these commandsso that you may love one another.”


This is Rogation Sunday, a day when we ask (‘rogare’ is Latin for ask) God’s blessings and, in the old days of the church, an appeasement of God’s wrath and for protection against calamities. For those whose spirituality is ennobled by these things, it is their practice to fast on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the observance of the Ascension of Jesus in to heaven on Thursday, May 13th, which is 40 days exactly from the Resurrection. 


At the end of this service, we’re going to process outside to “beat the bounds” (boundaries) and ask (rogare) for God’s blessings on the four-corners of the church property. I hope you’ll stay and join us. St. Paul’s is back and livin’ the dream of the gospel. 

This is also Mother’s Day, a special day, to be sure, which, alas, is NOT on the Church Calendar. I know you’ll be shocked to learn that there are no special observances or even a special collect prayer to be found in the BCP. However, many in Mother Church acknowledge that we ignore Mother’s Day at our own peril. 


And, as you may have noticed, my momma didn’t raise no fool. 


There will be carnations. Red. It’s a tradition and we know how important tradition is in the church.


Abide in my love. That’s what Jesus said. What does that mean? In this sense, abide means to rest, to wait, to stay – to build an abode – a home in our hearts – in the love of Jesus. 


Abide in my love. That’s what Jesus said. As we consider his commandment, to love one another as he loved us, what might that sort of ‘abiding in love’ look like? 


For many, Mother’s Day is as easy an analogy of abiding love as picking low hanging fruit. However, this day is terrible for those who mourn a mother now gone, and also for those whose mothers were just not equipped to nurture a child. It’s terrible for women who desperately wanted to be mothers but couldn’t be, and also for women who didn’t want to be mothers but are too often vilified for that perfectly reasonable choice. It’s beyond terrible for women who have lost a child.


As painful as Mother’s Day can be for some, it is also an occasion, especially this Rogation Sunday, to understand how much we share in an innate sense of the abiding love of a parent with our fellow creatures in the animal kingdom.

I live on one of the marshes which are a part of one of the estuaries of Rehoboth Bay on the Delmarva Peninsula. Every day, I am blessed to have a front row seat to nature. The red-winged Black Birds arrived not long ago and every time I hear their angry cry, my heart leaps in anxiety that a sea gull has come too close to their nest in the marsh. I cheer on the angry father Black Bird as he swoops and charges the intruder and predator. I shake my fist and say, “You tell ‘em!”

There are several Canada Geese who are my neighbors. Every now and again, Mother Nature’s timing is off and a storm will arrive shortly after a mamma geese has laid her eggs. The sound of the mamma and papa geese, calling up and down the marsh, looking for their lost eggs is enough to break open even a heart of stone. 

As difficult as it is to hear the grief of another of God’s creatures, I find it comforting to know that humans are not alone in our grief and that we all need and seek solace. I don’t know if you’ve read Rosamund Young’s memoir, “The Secret Life of Cows” but I’m reminded of the story she tells of a grieving young mother cow whose calf was a stillbirth. 


That cow sought her own mother for comfort and solace, from three fields away. Imagine!


Perhaps you remember the story of the orca (sometimes called “Killer Whale”) who carried her dead calf for 17 days – 17 days! – across a thousand miles of ocean because she could not abide to let the baby go. Apparently, the calf was born alive and lived for 30 minutes but then something happened and the calf died and she grieved while holding her calf for 17 days.


No matter your gender or if you have not suffered a stillbirth or lost an infant or child, there is something profoundly moving in that image of that orca. Yes, grief is universal and recognizable, but I think we can all recognize an image of ‘abiding love’ – a love that begins before we are born, stays with us for as long as we live, and follows us even to our grave. That is the kid of love in which Jesus asks us to abide. (BTW, I understand that that orca gave birth again, this time to an apparently healthy calf.)

I have one more image of abiding love I want to share with you. Some of you may know that I am an Associate of the Order of St. Helena. The sisters of OSH have been my spiritual guides for over 35 years. I am the priest I am today in large part because of the discipline of a life of prayer which I learned from them. They have played an enormous role in my formation as a Christian who is privileged to be a priest.  They are my spiritual mothers, sure and true.


One of the sisters, Sr. Ann, has asked for prayers for one of the families she knows. This young couple has two delightful sons, Jack and Archer. 


Jack is the older boy who is bright and inquisitive, sensitive and compassionate. Archer was born with a multiplicity of life-threatening syndromes, most of which are difficult to comprehend, much less pronounce. To put a very complicated medical situation very, very simply, Archer was born with a heart deformity and has had several strokes that left him with a seizure disorder which has been difficult to control.


I want to share with you one of his mother’s recent posts on Facebook to those of us who have been praying for him.

“I came home from work and this is what I saw. I see it all the time but for some reason it hit me especially hard tonight.


Jesse on the phone with neurology (literally his *15th* complex medical phone conversation of the day), Archer's nurse logging all his feeds and meds, his occupational therapist hard at work teaching him how to drink and Jack playing dinosaurs in his bedroom........


It took us a long time to get Archer the in-home therapists and nurses he has now. They're truly incredible and they help us so much. I'm grateful to live in a society where we have such advanced medical technology, treatments and therapies available to us.


But some days it hits me. How much I wish we didn't need them. How much of our life revolves around hospitals, therapies and medications. How I feel guilty sometimes for just snuggling or being silly with my baby when I should be working on therapies. How every medical decision feels like it could make or break his future. How I'm scared to be alone with him sometimes because I don't want to deal with a seizure or stroke on my own.


So yeah, when I look at this photo, I feel sadness. But I also feel so much gratitude. For a husband who fights for our family so fiercely every day. Today a vital medical treatment was late and he spent hours making sure it got here in time. All the while playing with Jack every spare second he could.


Grateful for friends and family who pray for us, help us and give encouragement.


Grateful for the medical team that keeps Archer's little heart beating.


And grateful for a God that accepts both the sorrow and gratitude that coexist in my heart. I never have to hide from him (God). 


Now, I don’t know about you, but I think there can be no clearer picture of abiding in God’s love than the one Archer’s parents provide for us. 


Did you hear what she said? God loves us so much that God accepts both the sorrow and gratitude that coexist in our hearts. Just hold that thought in your mind for a second. God accepts our sorrow and God accepts our gratitude. God knows how we struggle with conflicting thoughts because God once put on human flesh and dwelt among us – fully human and fully divine. 


And, she said, we never have to hide from God. That would be an exercise in futility anyway, because the Psalmist promises that “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.” (Psalm 139:8). 

I think that mother orca knew that when she swam for 17 days – one day for every month she was pregnant with her calf – to grieve its loss. I think that mother cow knew that when she called for her own mother several fields away when she lost her calf. 


Mother’s Day has been criticized as a saccharine invention, a national fairy tale in a nation that does almost nothing to support mothers. But this Sunday, this Mother’s Day, this Rogation Sunday, we can make time to contemplate the ways in which we’re connected to one another, through times of joy and times of sorrow, across time and even across species. 

The mystic St. Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), whose feast day was yesterday, wrote in her book, Revelations of Divine Love: 

"It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. The mother,” she wrote, “can give her child her milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most generously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament which is the precious food of life itself… All the debt we owe, at God’s bidding, for his fatherhood and motherhood, is fulfilled by loving God truly; a blessed love which Christ arouses in us.” (Divine Revelations, pp. 141-142.)


“Abide in my love,” Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” And, he said, I amgiving you these commands so that you may love one another.”


That sounds an awful lot like what a mother would say, don’t you think? 


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