When I was a kid, one of the questions I always had was: what does a meaningful or full life look like? I first asked this when I was 10. I was sitting on the dock staring out at the clouds above the lake at my grandpa’s house following his funeral service. I couldn’t answer the question. It hung there like a cloud in the sky. When I eventually came into the Church as a young adult, I’d seen a lot more: war, terrorist acts, racist violence, leaders and politicians gone astray, broken homes, people acting out of fear rather than hope, and sadly, childhood friends taken too soon by illness and despair. Why are we here at all, I thought.
I studied theology to try to answer questions about suffering, meaning and death. But studying theology only raised more questions for me. It was not until I saw Jesus Christ embodied by real people that I started to be able to answer my original question. I knew that Jesus came into the world as a weak and vulnerable infant like all of us, that he took on our humanity, so that he could reconcile us to his Father, and that loving people without reserve, led him to be arrested, tried on false charges and executed. I knew then, that if Jesus was really one of us, having lived a fully human life with us, that to love fully and completely - those we know and don’t know, those we consider friends and those who are enemies - to love fully and completely, even sacrificially, is what it means to live a meaningful life. I learned this not from books, but from the days, weeks, and years spent with those like Mary and Sam, who offered themselves, everything they had, up to God, for God to form and shape.
When I started at Incarnation, some of the first people I met were Sam and Mary. I remember Sam tapping his watch saying, “do you know your sermon was 20 minutes (I promise Sam, I’ll try to keep this one shorter).” Mary was with him and she gave him what I came to call her, ‘side eye’, which was intended to communicate that Sam has a kind and gentle heart and not to take his directives too personally. I came to see how - not with many words, but with just one or two, and with her sharp wit, in corralling Sam during our zoom socials during COVID. It wasn’t a dismissal or an affirmation. It was a bridge of relationship, a complex and nuanced capacity that drew me and as I’ve heard, so many others to both her and Sam.
I could see her deep love for others in how she was always asking about how people were doing, not out of piety or duty, but simply out of compassion. I could see her deep love, nurtured in God’s love for her, in how she did not boast about herself or even her family - as if she had to prove something by her or your successes - but in asking how others were doing and then sharing only when asked. What exceptional humility; a humility I have learned is grounded in feeling confident that God was present with and in her, constituting her way of seeing herself and others.
When I went to take her communion and pray with her the week before she died, she asked God to come to her and take her hand: “Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” I told her how powerful a servant of God she’d been. That she was a witness; that she had testified to me about God’s presence in this world. That God is truly here and at work and is available to those with the humility to seek. She asked me why I thought this. I said, because through you I have seen God’s salvation at work. She asked what I meant. I said, “you have loved without remainder.” You have loved as Christ loved; sacrificially.
As I said last week: That is the testimony of faith. Faith is the courage to love when doing so is hard; when it requires sacrifice; leaving behind a home in the Middle East, to give others - Sam, Dina, Nadine, her grandchildren and their families - new possibility of life, of education, of independence, of the ability to give and receive love with freedom, so of hope and opportunity to know God; with Sam, she took the risk of staying put in a City and in a church community of people who were not their own people and making a home there; a home that is constantly open to embracing others.
There is no greater meaning in life than to give oneself so that others might have hope enough to act with faith, even in the midst of their own fears, frustrations and struggles. This is the definition of love: to create an environment in which others know they are loved and valued so they can step through the trials of this world with hope and maybe even with faith, to seek and grow in what God has called them into.
Ever a quiet person, a humble person, when I expressed this to her she said, “I don’t think I have done all that much.” I said, “of course you don’t. You have seen the salvation of God come to you in Christ and you responded by faith, in hope and so you’ve offered love to those whom you encounter. That is all and that is everything.
I still do not know exactly what happens when we die. But knowing God’s love borne out in Mary’s life, a life filled with resurrection hope, she has called me, and all of us, to join with her in affirming our own hope that one day we may enter God’s abiding love for good: “When the darkness appears And the night draws near And the day is past and gone At the river I stand, Guide my feet, hold my hand Take my hand, precious Lord Lead me home” AMEN