By Corey Copeland, Rose Mina Munjee, and Rev. Dr. Anne L. Simmonds, Luke 19:28-40

A Reflection by Corey Copeland:

If I had to focus on one conviction at the very bottom of my faith it would be simply this: nothing is more powerful, or more important, than love.

I came to understand that during the time my wife Betsy was struggling with terminal illness. The fear and suffering she felt were truly awful, in ways I’m not really equipped to describe.  And yet they also gave rise to a current of love and affirmation so deep and so strong that we could never have imagined it.

Very near the end of her life Betsy’s older brother Marty came to visit us. He asked her how her faith had been affected by what she’d endured, and what she now knew was soon to come.  After a moment’s reflection she said:

“I’ve come to know myself, and I’ve come to know God.  And it’s enough.”

It was then that I realized she had been blessed by a kind of grace far beyond anything mere logic could explain. It seemed to me something that could only have come about through some combination of deep suffering, profound faith, and unconditional love.

She had not been cured.  And while that was what we had hoped and prayed for over many days and many nights, I began to see that there was something much greater involved: that healing and cure were not the same things.   To be cured was to be rid of disease, but to be healed was to be made whole.  Over the course of a lifetime – however long or short – to be healed was surely the greater thing. There was no doubt in my mind that she had been.

I can only attribute that healing to divine love, acting on us through family and friends and community in a way that was astonishingly powerful and deeply mysterious. It still is. So my deepest conviction is the one Paul expressed to the Corinthians long ago:

“… faith, hope and love abide; these three. And the greatest of these is love.”

A Reflection by Rose Mina Munjee:

One value that I hold deeply and strongly is compassion. I believe compassion is at the core of our humanity and it is what connects us. Miller Williams, an American poet, reminds us “Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”

Compassion is complex. It requires us to be vulnerable. At the heart of this value is the willingness to be with suffering – our own suffering and the suffering of others—without running, resisting, denying, or distracting. The power of compassion is universal and transcends the dimensions of culture and religion.

Rūmī, a 13th-century Sufi poet, offers this “In compassion and grace, be like the sun…” True compassion is unconditional. At the same time, its nature is paradoxical. We think it should easy, yet when we search for it, we find the opposite. Until our suffering is transformed within us—we will find anger, hurt, hatred, ignorance, fear, and disappointment. The key for me lies in turning towards rather than away from difficult feelings to expose the softness that lies beneath. If we can be compassionate with ourselves for our faults, then we will be able to be compassionate with others.

The Buddha said, “If your compassionate heart does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” In my own life, this has become clear. Many years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. This was shocking and difficult. It was also the beginning of discovering compassion for myself. It was hard at first – there was helplessness, guilt, fear, and resistance. However, I continued to ask what was really needed to help my mother and to help me deal with this situation. As I reflected, taking into account my own feelings, my compassion for and understanding of my mother grew. Sometimes, amongst myriad emotions, all we can do is offer compassion. This may take the form of sitting silently with another, offering support, or praying for ease. Being with suffering is not easy, but this is the only thing we can do, when we cannot change it. We need to pause long enough to allow wisdom and compassion shine through.

In closing, I offer this Compassion prayer (given to me by a beloved teacher, Jack Kornfield on a 10 day insight meditation retreat):

May I hold this with tender compassion.
May I hold all longing, fear, and vulnerability with tender compassion. May the great heart of compassion awaken within me.

A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Anne L. Simmonds:

I was thirty years old. My then husband and I were in a couple’s therapy weekend. The leader asked for a volunteer couple to do a communications exercise in the group. The task was to stand apart and move to where we felt comfortable enough to name an issue in the relationship. My husband stood at one end of the room, I at the other. As we moved closer, attempting to speak something stirred in me and I began to cry; tears turned to sobs. The group silently witnessed my pain. Engulfed in their support, my inner landscape turned from one of deep hurt and pain to inexplicable joy – a feeling of being deeply loved and accepted at the core of my being. Even though I had been taught all my life that God loved me, this was the first time that I felt it, no, KNEW IT, in the depths of my being.

The central story of our faith which we celebrate at the time of year when mother earth is bursting with new life, is about death and re-birth. I notice, both in our celebration and life experience we are quick to move through, even gloss over the hard parts of the story in the same way we wish to avoid winter. In the garden, Jesus is “sorrowful unto death”. From an expression of sadness, he moves to anger at the disciples who are unable to witness his pain. Turning to the one he calls “Father”, he bargains, but then must surrender – “not my will but yours.” How often we must come to this place when we have done all we can to change or reverse a difficult situation, and simply accept what is – the things we cannot change, such as illness, death and many others.

On the cross Jesus cries: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” He knows that deep place of desolation, of feeling completely abandoned. I expect most of us have been at there at some point. This is also the place where people of faith might walk away – “There is no God,” they say – “What kind of God would allow this?”

The next part of the story we avoid – not only does Jesus die, but the story tells us he ‘descends into’ hell where he spends three days. Whether you understand this metaphorically or literally, the meaning is the same – Hell is hell! Three days symbolizes a long time in a very lonely place.

Like the caterpillar who must remain in the chrysalis until the appointed time, it is only by staying long enough that we come to what Jan Hatanaka calls an “epiphany of despair”1, and through that, to new life; hence the butterfly as symbol of Easter and resurrection. Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “It is the inability to bear dark emotions that causes many of our most significant problems, and not the emotions themselves.” She continues “I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.”2 “Each time we trust the dying, we are led to a deeper level.”3

That moment a little over forty years ago planted the seeds of what became a career change from nursing to ministry. It was the first of many personal death and resurrection experiences. These have been pivotal in my life and I regret none of them, even though at the time I would have wished like Jesus for “the cup” to be taken from me.

The invitation is this: the next time you find yourself in this cycle of death and re- birth, and it happens with any significant loss or change in our life, take the time you need to honour all parts of the process long enough for the epiphany of wisdom to emerge. May we also do this now collectively as a congregation.