For a variety of different reasons, this week has been one of those weeks when my family has constantly been on my mind.
Worries about things that are happening right now to family members on the other side of the world, exciting future hopes for my family as it continues to grow and comforting memories about family members from years gone by.
Last Thursday I was thinking about one of my grandmother’s – my mum’s mum – Nanny Ball we called her. She was the great matriarch of the family and I had lived with her for the first few years of my life so I was particularly close to her.
Nanny Ball always had a treat for her favourite grandson, and every time I visited she would bring out a glass jar that the treat had been put into. It wasn’t a special jar – very plain – I think it was an old sweet shop jar that she had found from somewhere – it had lost it’s label and was a very ordinary, everyday kind of thing. But on every visit, out it would come and some special sweetie or small gift would be wrapped up inside.
Some weeks after my Nan had died (I think when I was about 9 years old) my mum was sorting through Nan’s belongings – some treasured possessions were kept and other things were put in boxes for the charity shop. The glass jar was put in one of these boxes. I asked my mum if I could have it and she said I could. Of all the things from my Nan’s house, this very plain, unimpressive glass jar was all that I wanted. This object was the one that I associated with my dear Nan – I had to keep it. I believed that somehow it carried her presence. It reminded me of all the treats that she gave to me, one of the last things I remember her holding, and felt like my connection to her.
At a deeper level, holding on to that glass jar revealed my desire to be connected, to be remembered, to have and to know my place in life.
And don’t we all want that? Regardless of how old we are or the circumstances of our lives we want to know: Who am I? What are the connections that will sustain my life? Where is my place in this world?
Those are the questions Jesus is addressing as he speaks to his disciples in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Jesus is speaking his final words, one last sermon, to his disciples. He is preparing them for life without his physical presence, foreshadowing what resurrected life, Easter life, is to be like. He offers some direct answers to those questions:
You are my friends.
Abiding love – laying down life kind of love – is the connection that will sustain you.
I am your place in this world.
Most of us spend a lifetime searching for those answers and trying to make them our own. They must, however, become more than intellectual answers. They must become lived answers. We learn to trust and live those answers in our relationships with one another. Life is a school for learning to love.
Our search for those answers is ultimately our search for Christ. That searching is always there, but it becomes more acute in times of change: the death of a loved one, children growing up and moving out, a new job, retirement, a debilitating illness, a move to a new town, a marriage or a breakdown in a relationship. In those moments we want something to hold on to, something to comfort, encourage, and reassure us; a glass jar that will guide us through life.
When I was about 18 and packing up my possessions to take to university, I was talking to my mum, telling her about how important the now cracked jar with no lid was to me and wondering if I should take it with me. As I was talking to her I realised in a new way that the glass jar was not the important gift, the thing that carried my nan’s presence. I was. I was the last thing I remember her touching when she hugged and kissed me. I was the one who received her cuddles and gentle whispers “I love you.” My life, my actions, my very being somehow carried her presence and our shared love. The connection was and always had been within me – not in a glass jar.
Sadness, fear, and desperation often causes us to grasp for glass jars in one form or another. We put them away in the back of the cupboards, hoping and trying to create a connection that actually already exists, maintain a presence that is already eternal, and hang on to a love that is already immortal.
We do this not only with one another but also with Christ. With each glass jar we collect we can forget that our lives embody the shared and mutual love of Christ and one another. In that love is the fullness of presence; a presence, the disciples will learn, that transcends time, distance and even death.
Treasured possessions can be important and remind us of those who have gone before us, but at some point we must throw away the glass jars we hold on to so that we can hear, experience, and live the deeper truth. Our lives, our actions, our love carry and reveal the presence of divine love. Jesus does not give us something, he says we are something. We are the gift. We are the connection. Think about what he tells the disciples:
- I love you with the same love that the Father loves me – You have what I have.
- I give to you the joy that my Father and I share – You are a part of us.
- You are my joy, my life, and my purpose.
- I want your joy to be full, complete, whole, and perfect.
- You are my friends, my peers, my equals.
- I have told you everything. Nothing is held back or kept secret.
- I chose you. I picked you. I wanted you.
- I appointed, ordained, commissioned, and sent you to bear fruit, to love another. I trust and believe you can do this.
It’s all about us – in the best sense of those words. We are the love of Christ. Our belief in Jesus’ words changes how we see ourselves, one another, the world, and the circumstances of our lives. That belief is what allows us to keep his commandment to love one another. When we know these things about ourselves our only response is love. We can do nothing else. We are free to live and more fully become the love of Christ.
The challenge of our search is not to find the answers, but to believe and live them.
Who are we? The love of Christ.
What are the connections that will sustain our lives? The love of Christ.
Where is my place in this world? The love of Christ.
As St Julian of Norwich puts it – In, by, with, and through the love of Christ “all shall be well, all shall be well, every manner of thing shall be well.”
May God bless you and those you hold dear in this coming week.