Standing in front of the greeting card display, I had that feeling likely that you have as well. Which card do I pick for Mother’s Day? You stand there, befuddled, with row and after row of cards to choose from.
You know one thing. It must be the right card. You think it’s a quick trip to the greet card section, yet it’s an art to pick the right card. Can you send a silly card or a sentimental one? Should I pick the one with a poem or the one with a fairly irreverent tone? Even though you’re asking the fine folks at Hallmark to do the talking, you aim for something that is “from the heart”.
And by the way, you must remember this: “eeiny-meeny-miney-mo” is not a scientifically proven process. Besides, Mother will know what you did. They have those extra sensory powers, y’know….
For the record, I selected one with the cartoon character Garfield finding a bunch of words scattered on the floor. When you open it, you realize the cat has put the words together to form a Happy Mother’s Day message (indeed, the banner pops up as you open the card).
So the lesson learned: when in doubt, pick a card with an irreverent word from a cat able to eat his weight in lasagna. Sign the card with good penmanship (and ensure good posture while doing so). Finally, all you need to do is remember to mail the card….
As the year goes on, we find ourselves awash in holidays, created for the civic calendar, a rotation of post office and bank closings accompanying them: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, President’s Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, Martin Luther King Day, and the list goes on. And for each holiday, there’s generally a card, a meal, a postal or banking closure, or some sort of community event involved. The “civic holidays” that pluck at the heart strings best are less about the great persons and events of American history. The ones that seem the highest of the holidays are the ones more “parental” in tone. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day mark a time for special meals, gifts and flowers. And yes, the greeting card with just the right message.
Such days are also a balancing act. Not every person finds the sort of day celebrating a parent an easy experience. One might feel the grief of a recently departed mother. Another may wish the day get over, the happy tenor of things a painful reminder of how not all mother/child relationships are positive or neatly summarized in a card.
Holidays are not “one size fits all” experiences, even if the marketing and traditions encourage only the merriment side of things. Whether or not the greet card companies acknowledge it, Mother’s Day is a day for joy and for sorrow, remembering the good and wonderful, and for learning to sort out the less recognized feelings, memories and wounds.
Wherever our minds and hearts find themselves this morning, we hear the good word from the gospel according to St John. Jesus offers words about the love he shares with God and the love God gives the world, connecting the divine with the human in ways that we could never make possible in our own. In John’s gospel, this passage is part of a larger section called the “Farewell Discourse” (chapters 14-17). Considering the gospel’s plot barrels toward a cross, his words here are oddly calm. In this “last night” before Jesus finds himself caught up in the worst the world has to offer, Jesus speaks of and models what sort of love he offers those who follow his teachings and ways.
Despite their protests otherwise, Jesus takes to the task of humbly washing their feet. We learn of love that knows no vanity or pride, a love that is given freely to those who are willing to receive it and flourish in its graceful glory. Jesus shares the power of divine love, the strength that is found in vulnerability and risk, compassion and abiding trust.
In the story of God’s love for the world made known by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we connect with the experiences of love drawn from our own lives. Tenderness and mercy are hallmarks of the divine love Jesus speaks, and we see glimpses of it in the good relationships we have in life. When I read this passage about selfless love, I cannot help but think of my own mother’s care, giving time to tend me when in pain or afraid, not relenting in her encouragement when I was ready to give up.
Certainly, no human relationship can be without flaw or edge (indeed, neither my mother nor myself would claim to have a “perfect” relationship), yet we find in Jesus’ talk of God’s love for the world analogy at play, parallel equivalence when we encounter in human life partial fragments of what God unveils in Christ with divine fullness. Not one of us loves in totality, though some of us aim to try our best to do so. In a parent’s love for his child or the care of a mentor for a student, or the compassion of a neighbor to a neighbor in need, we see glimpses of the love God gifts the world.
As the summer rolls around, our mailbox or FB account clutter with invitations to weddings of family and friends. (And you wonder, will this be the summer when I finally regift that knife block set I got when I got married.) As a minister, I know it’s time to read 1 Corinthians 13, often used for weddings, just like expected as the 23rd Psalm at a funeral.
As the clergy presiding at a funeral or a wedding, sometimes I get a little ambivalent of reading these texts, not because of a lack of love for the 23rd Psalm or 1 Corinthians 13. I ponder if people really listen to the texts and hear what is being said. I find the readings as an opportunity to “preach” in a sense, taking my time in reading them, letting the psalmist or St Paul say a good word even if it’s the “umpteenth” time they have been read aloud at such a ceremony.
In the 1 Corinthians I linger with the splendid words that are less recalled at a wedding. Paul talks of love very warmly, and then he gets a bit philosophic, claiming that we know what we know in relative perspective:
12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
As Paul wisely observes, in this life, we see glimpses of God’s love for the world as best we can, knowing that they are only bits of the greater divine love. We may struggle to see the tracks and traces of such love when life comes crashing down, yet Christianity promises that believers shall know this wondrous love in full when Christ returns to gather up his faithful. We see love and relationships soar and falter, yet we have trust that in God we will find love as it is meant to be known.
So it is with the gospel reading, as John casts the great drama of betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and death awaiting Jesus with the image of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and teaching of a love that knows no limits. In God, Jesus abides and in turn, his faithful abide in him. Jesus sees in full while the disciples struggle with even grasping this sort of love, seeing only the partial of a master who becomes servant and even shares that he thinks of them not as servants but as friends.
The gentle voice of Jesus drifts down through the generations, reminding us and guiding us to “love one another” as He loves us. Some days, we find this an easy commandment. Other days, it is such a struggle. Keeping up good, healthy and grounded relationships is an ongoing challenge as we puzzle out how to keep the faith and hold onto what matters: our family and our loved ones, our neighbors and our friends.
We see glimpses of the love Jesus offers the world and do our best to offer that love as best we can. Loving and receiving love is not a perfect or easy effort. Loving as Jesus loves us is at the heart of our faith. One could see it as an impossible ideal to live with. Jesus looks at his faithful gathered around him, seated there a bit dumbfounded with newly washed feet and hearts and minds befuddled by this talk of loving one another.
This teaching of Jesus gives me hope with its lofty talk of love given to a people caught up in the grit of reality. For those who have warm feelings of relationships gone well and those who have experiences fraught with regret or grief, this good word on love abides.