Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:21-28
I woke yesterday morning with a full pastoral schedule that I knew would demand my time, prayers and attention. In the late morning, I traveled south to preside over the burial of a woman who had survived and thrived for 57 years with Down's Syndrome. Her life was a remarkable and uncommon triumph. Most people born with her gifts (yes, gifts!) didn't survive long...and if they did their families were usually encouraged to institutionalize them. This family held her in love, and her love in return formed them into as tight and loving a family as I have had the privilege to meet over the course of my ministry. A woman with severe "disabilities" became the strength and heart of a family and for three generations. Coping with her challenges allowed her beloved family also welcome and love two children with autism, the death of two brothers and the loss of their parents. That woman took up her cross, and with stubborn, loving strength she encouraged her whole family to join her in following our savior's example to do it with joy and abandonment to God's love. Christ be praised.
Then, I had the opportunity to visit and pray with the patriarch of a local family who is facing his last run around the track of life. He is trying to keep his strength for his grand-daughter's walk down the aisle tomorrow, and then his goodbyes will begin in earnest. He spoke of his dreams of late...
Father, I dream over and over again, seeing us coming down from the trees in Africa, the Rift Valley. We walk on the grass and find food. Then, we hunt. After a time, we gather more food with tools; and then we learn to grow more food for each other. We learn, and we become prosperous. It is amazing, and all through the ages we learn more and can do more and more. And then we get to today, and so much is possible. What I can't see then is what comes next. I am so grateful for everything, Father, all that we have done and learned and accomplished. But I as you this...would you rather go back and dwell in all that story, or go forward and see what happens next? I know I don't have strength for that journey, and I worry that I am losing my curiosity. I do pray that we will learn more how to use what we know to do good, to make sure we don't do more damage. I want that, Father....That exchange moved me to tears. How wonderful and awesome the dying process is, I know. I have seen people approach it by reviewing their lives and wondering about the choices made. He was the first to look at life as the whole span of human history. His cross to bear? Being able to see in these last moments the wonders and challenges that ALL of us have faced through ALL human history. HE loves and celebrates the triumphs and he repents of the errors and brokenness humans bring with their rampant success to this ecology. For a moment, as he prepared to close his eyes on this life, he is opening my eyes to a wider perspective. Christ be praised.
Then, I traveled to a parishioner who has survived open heart surgery and is recovering at home. She is doing well, but still feels from time to time the fragility and vulnerability...and anxiety...of life post-surgery. Who would not? A surgeon has done a wonder, and repaired her heart. At the same time, in order to do so, they had to literally open her up. Too often, we forget that the wonders of healing also create powerful impacts...we are open to the world in ways unimaginable just a century ago. Her cross is to feel returning strength, and continuing vulnerability. Christ be praised.
As I was performing these planned visits, two more pastoral challenges presented themselves. Two parishioners were in the hospital, Could I visit? Yes.
One deals with a heart that has been compromised since birth. Her cross to bear is a daily maintenance of a part of her that the rest of us take for granted. Each heartbeat MATTERS. She was getting checked and tested in order to make sure the balance of medication and therapy was just so. Another parishioner had fallen at home, and her son had brought her to the hospital to make sure her injuries were not serious and to ensure her fragile body had the help it needed to heal. I was able to pray with take time to sit with them. They bear their crosses with resolve to meet each new day as survivors, even with broken hearts they live in hope. Christ be praised.
Finally, I wake this morning to write having just finished penning a message to my parish that their Vestry leadership has challenged them to a matching drive to raise funds for the recovery efforts due to Hurricane Harvey. It was six years ago this week that the devastation of TS Irene destroyed much of our church and deeply scarred our community with loss. Now, after having been supported by other St. Peters' and a multitude of people, our parish now stronger in recovery, we are reaching out to them as they shoulder their cross of recovery in the face of historic, devastating flooding and storm damage. Christ be praised.
I am humbled, awed and moved to grateful tears by the beauty of God's revelatory love to me over the past few days....and to you for bearing witness to that grace.
Take up your cross, the savior says....I have seen that and now find my own cross a little less a burden and more a blessing by the light of the love of our Savior shown me by others. Christ be praised!