The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio.
Please pray with me. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our strength, and our Redeemer. Amen.
In the latter years of my mother’s life, she had established a morning ritual—every day the same. She’d get up unbelievably early in the morning, make her way to the living room, sit on the end of the sofa and sit there in the dark, alone, but actually not alone. She would stay like that for a while, presumably thinking and I know praying because she told me. Then, at some point in time, she’d turned the light on, she’d pull out her Forward Day By Day booklet, read the daily meditation; and then she would pull out the Anglican prayer beads that I had given her years earlier that I bought in the Cathedral gift shop. And she would pray. Then she would call her identical twin sister in Chicago who had done something very similar and they would compare notes on Forward Day By Day: did it speak to them—maybe not so much on some days. But she did this day in, day out.
She wouldn’t have seen that as a spiritual practice, but I did. She would’ve thought that was way overstating what she did every day. But she faithfully did it and I knew this practice of comparing notes on Forward Day By Day because I called her every night and she would give me her opinion on what she’d read that morning and ask me for mine. This was something that I know, particularly in retrospect, helped shape my mother’s service as a disciple of Jesus Christ and it was also part of her deep grounding in some of the difficult times that come in life that we all experience.
Now, I know on Mother’s Day, that it can be a complex holiday that we celebrate. Not everyone is blessed as I was with a wonderful mother and a wonderful loving relationship and I just want to say that as a pastoral note, that we be sensitive, one to another, because our experiences are not universal.
After my mother died quite unexpectedly, when I got to Texas I went to our house where I grew up, went to the sofa and saw, as it always had been: her prayer beads and her Forward Day By Day. And I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I opened up the Forward Day By Day and I discovered yet another thing about my mother that has continued to teach me and to invite me to go deeper in my own journey, in my own walk: a simple index card, to the casual observer, but one of my most prized possessions because she used it as a bookmark. She had a quote from Mother Teresa on one side and a quote from Teresa of Avila on the other.
From Mother Teresa:
“Here I am, Lord—body, heart and soul.
Grant with Your love,
I may be big enough to reach the world,
And small enough to be at one with You.”
The quote from Teresa of Avila:
“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who has God finds he lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”
What a word for us, even today in these troubling uncertain times, that we should let nothing disturb us or frighten us because God is here. God doesn’t pass away, that God alone suffices. I think that both of these quotes, when you think about them, even have relevance in our Scriptures appointed for this fifth Sunday of Easter. For those of you who heard it, you know that our dean gave a wonderful sermon last Sunday and if you missed it go online. Part of what our dean spoke about were the early days of the Christian church, when a ragtag group of disciples dared to believe what Jesus had told them; dared to go forth in the power and the joy and the spirit and the transformative opportunities of the resurrected Christ. And he asked, what do we do for the love of God? Where is our joy? Where is our passion? Where is our purpose? It’s an important question—one that we should ask ourselves each and every day.
In these great 50 days of Easter, that is part of our charge: that we learn about these early days of the crazy Christians from the very beginning; that we reflect on how Jesus continued to appear to them post-Resurrection to guide and comfort them even in the tough times. Listen again to the words from our gospel lesson today when Jesus is talking to his disciples, telling them the important things, the eternal things to carry them through from a time when he would no longer physically be present with them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me… I am the way and the truth and the life… If you believe in me you will do these things that I do and even greater deeds.” And then the disciples were crazy enough to go and try, despite the odds, despite a hostile environment.
It was never intended to be easy to follow Jesus, but it was intended to be transformative. We heard in the Acts of the Apostles—that portion you heard earlier this morning—that it cost Stephen his life. But those who sought to silence him were not successful. We, to this day, talk about Stephen and his witness, not so much about the ones who cast the stones seeking to silence him and to silence his transformative message.
We are Easter people. What does that mean to you and me? What is God calling you and me to do, now, in our day, in our time, for love of God? As the dean said last Sunday, I can’t think of a time when our country, our world, needs more badly than now to hear about that transformative love and power of the resurrected Christ. It doesn’t have to be huge things like Mother Teresa or Teresa of Avila or even Stephen. God gives you and me, each one of us, something to do. For my mother, it was things like establishing a jail ministry where the people in the jail could come and worship at their little Episcopal Church with their families. Doing things like turning the old chapel that was basically never used into a place where couples who didn’t have the money could be married in a church by a justice of the peace instead of at City Hall.
What has God placed on your heart? We don’t all have to be Saints. Let me assure you, my mother would’ve been the first to tell you she was not a saint. She would’ve said that about me, too. And how do I know that? Because periodically she would ask me, as I was using my prayer beads, was I familiar with the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I would assure her I did know that prayer and I would try and pick up the pace on praying it! The point is, there’s much work to do. The great good news is we never do it by our self. God in Christ is available to you and me not just yesterday, not just today, but forever. In the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what it is that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
He is risen. Hallelujah. Amen.