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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Lent 5: Unless a Seed falls to the Ground and Dies

This winter has provided one of the most challenging and one of the most fruitful periods of my Christian life and my own emotional maturing as God’s creature. I’ve talked about experiencing the death of family and friends before, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared with you the fact that until most recently, I couldn’t actually handle people dying. I avoided it. I stayed away. I ran from it. At first glance it might have appeared that I didn’t care. 

But the reality is that I cared so much that I felt experiencing someone’s death and the sadness of their families and friends, I would be swallowed up in sorrow and unable to function in providing the necessary place, space, and time for their loved ones to grieve. And then Mary got sick. 

In that moment the Holy Spirit swept me, as with Jesus, out into the desert of time and of my own soul. I couldn’t avoid the death or the love of someone who touched my life so deeply. The Sunday after her interment and after our church service, I walked Kodi through York cemetery to go and pray at her grave and to make sure none of the flowers had blown away in the wind. I felt hollowed out and utterly numb from the inside out. 

The following Thursday I met with my psychiatrist and I was telling him how I felt. I told him that of course I believed Mary was relieved from her suffering and pain because she was now with God and for that I should be thankful and so content. And yet, I said to him, “I feel devastated, as if life has been completely upended.” As we talked, I got angrier and angrier at my psychiatrist because I thought he didn’t understand my feelings. I said to him: “she’s gone. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone away and I no longer have her in my life.” He looked at me and said, “she is not gone. The fact that she has died does not change that fact that the love she obviously gave to you, to her family, to your church community, to her friends and neighbours, has now spread out from her to all of you. So she resides in all of your hearts, all of your thoughts, all of your souls, like a tree whose seeds fall to the ground and spread out to allow new growth.” 

Cue our Gospel reading this morning: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This glorification we well know, is Jesus’s own love poured out for us. The way he resists the temptation to simply judge us on failing to meet God’s commands leaving us to suffer the consequences of our own choices. The way he resists the temptation to turn his back on the weak, the meek, the outcasts, those who have diseases of mind and body. The way he withholds his judgement and instead exercises mercy through patience while he walks across his own desert mission of those who try to kill, undermine, betray, ignore, and even arrest him. 

It’s a love that Jesus exercises in his relationship to every person he encounters and so to you and I, all the way to the Cross. As he approaches what he knows is coming - the consequence of loving God, neighbour and those who turn away from him? “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Because Jesus lived a faithful life of loving God and us - a faithfulness neither you, nor I, nor even Mary - could make effective for every human being who has or will ever live, his life alone is that wheat which when it falls to the earth and dies, bears much fruit. 

The fruit is that we are reconciled to God. And in being reconciled to God we’re set free to love other people in spite of their flaws, their failures, the way they frustrate us or don’t fulfil our desires; we’re set free to treat others with mercy and forgiveness. Most of all we’re set free from trying to exert control as if we love this world more than we love God. 

For in my desert experience, I was tempted to hold onto life and to people here, imagining that this is all there is of someone. It wasn’t until my psychiatrist broke through that illusion that I heard God’s own voice working through him: “Mary is my child. She was on loan to all of you to teach you how to love as I have called you to love: with kindness, gentleness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and self control.” 

So although a person whom I love died, because God has reconciled us to himself, that person’s very being - united to Christ and so in Christ - united to me - lives on in my soul not for me privately, but only as I am willing to take up the mission that Mary, that Felix, that Sandra, and now, that Daphne have placed in my thoughts, in my heart, and in my soul, spreading out from that seed that is Christ, through the centuries, into their lives, and now into my own, into your own hearts and minds, into our own sharing of God's love poured through them to us, and through us, to a next generation. 

As we learn to let go of our own fears and our overcompensating egos of toughness, and embrace those seeds that have spread out from the one tree of life: a Cross, a God man, God remakes us in his image, able to bear and so also able to share the transfigured love into which we are all headed. Thanks be to God for this. Amen    

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