“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son,” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” -- John 19:26-27
I remember praying I wouldn't be asked to preach this text for a Good Friday service. Of all the seven last words of Jesus, this was a passage I feared. Not only did it not seem sexy enough (yes, there are passages that are sexy, therefore making them easy to preach), but it didn't seem to offer kindling to get a good fire started -- or so I thought. Besides, how could I relate to this passage. I am not a mother nor a wife. I am a no children having, single, never been married preacher and in no way can I relate to the Jesus/child/parent dynamic -- or so I thought. So with hesitation, "fear and trembling" and in obedience I accepted the challenge to deliver a message, only to be surprised at what Jesus revealed. I did in fact understand the feelings that can rise up when the one you depended on being there is no longer there. I did understand the anxiety around the thought of being alone for the rest of your life. I did understand the feelings of not wanting to go on or knowing whether you can go on and how to go on when your life is torn apart. As a single, never been married, no children having woman, I guess I really could understood the absence of a family and the fear of not having one.
Jesus was Mary's son, yes, and he was also her family. Jesus was John's friend, yes, and he was also his family. And in a compassionate expression of selfless love, Jesus introduced them and "gave them" to each other so that they would be each other's family. Jesus handled it, in an unexpected way. He covered their silent fears and concerns of loneliness and aloneness in one fail swoop. He sent the message that bloodlines don't necessarily bind us. It's the love lines we have with each other that matter. It was a point he made to the disciples: "And they will know that you belong to me by your love for each other. In other words, it is our act of love and acceptance and embracing of each other that speaks the language of family. Jesus' action is a reminder of what he does for all of us -- loves us so fiercely by adopting us into his family and connecting us to others who share his call to love beyond traditions and societal and familial boundaries. He reminds us of what it means to be our brother's and sister's keeper. He reminds us of what family looks like and what its members do -- they care for each other.
In this holiday season I was reminded of this gift of family through this passage. I was reminded of the many times Jesus has turned me and others over to each other and sealed us as members of the same family. I was reminded, in the moments of loneliness, that I am, in fact, not alone, but a part of many families. Last year this time, I became part of one of my college sorority sister's family, who happened to live two streets over from me. And as I type this, I am with another one of my college sorority sister's and her husband and family for the holidays.While it is still my desire and prayer to have the gift of my own immediate family -- outside my mother and father -- I will and do appreciate and enjoy those who have been given to me, from my days in college, my work in Vidalia, Ga., in Thomasville, Ga., Tallahassee, Fla., at the Tallahassee Democrat, in Atlanta, in seminary and at Candler School of Theology. I have become part of a family with some friends of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, though my associations with other clergy sisters, my own church, Harris Chapel and through friends of friends. What a gift to be given!
What a beautiful present in this season of Hallmark commercials, movies and holiday billboards that can sometimes taint our mood, cloud our perspective and leave us feeling as Mary and John -- that love is gone and we belong to no one and no one belongs to us. What a beautiful sight, when in those times, Jesus, in his surprising, unexpected way, commands us to look around to see who is among us and who is with us and what we have been given. He invites us to change our perspective. So, we turn our head ever so slightly and see the faces of many friends who have embraced us and welcomed us as family. How glorious it is that in those faces, we see Jesus and are reminded once again, like insurance, He's got us covered!