Perhaps you remember Mel Gibson’s movie of a decade or so ago, “The Passion of the Christ.” I think Mr. Gibson’s biggest mistake was in failing to realize that the passion of Jesus lay not in his death but in his life. About a century after Jesus, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “… it is not death that men should fear, rather he should fear never beginning to live.” One could never look at the life of Jesus and say, “Ah, there was a man who never began to live.” No, Jesus lived life fully engaged and lovingly attuned to the needs of others. And vice versa as you heard in tonight’s reading from the seventh chapter of Luke. Jesus could receive love as well as give it, no small gift indeed.
Sarah Kathleen Peck is a writer and storyteller who has thought long and hard about the question, “How to Live?” She realizes with the French writer Montaigne that “life is more difficult than death; instead of passive surrender, it takes attention and management. And it can be more painful.”
One day Mrs. Peck stopped to wonder, “… am I living as I want to? If I had to write a list of instructions for how to live, what would be on my list? And before I knew it, before I could actually think about it, I leaned into it, started scrawling across my notebooks, tears down my cheeks for my grandmother and for everyone who, inevitably, must die, including myself; and I thought, this is what I want.
“This is how I want to live.” As you listen to her story you might think of the connections to the life of Jesus, of the many places in which their interests and love and passions overlap. Think also of the love of the woman in our text, The one who washed the feet of Jesus.
“Marvel,” she writes. “Cultivate a sense of wonder and curiosity. Stare at the stars. Question the formation and root of everything.
“Hold hands… Hold your sister’s hand as she crosses the street as a child. Hold it in middle school when she looks up to you with big eyes, watching you. Hold it again when she graduates from college. Put your hand into your momma’s hand when she’s 50, 70 and 100. Brush her hair, and hold your head up high when she can’t fix her undergarments anymore. Smile and laugh and touch, touch, when you can. Take your grandfather to a nail salon and watch his face change to bewildered relaxation as someone, a stranger from the new century finally finds a way to take care of him, a man who was born in the 1920s and defines his life as taking care of others without saying a word.
“Put your hands out for your colleagues, hug them when they’ve done a good job. Forget protocol… Slow down, and spend time wordlessly on a porch, rocking back and forth with other souls, and reach out and touch them. And then touch the person you love, gently, with only your hands… say what you need to say with your hands.
“Wash someone’s feet. Put yourself and your body below another person, and do them the highest honor… Restore their foundation. Love.
“Be helpless. It’s okay. You’re allowed. You have permission to not know what you’re doing….
“…Nod to your bus driver, greet the taxi driver….
“Forgive. Let go. Seriously, wash it off. Go down to the river, dunk yourself, and move on. The more we hold onto, the more we become entrenched and gripped in the reality of anger and regret. Life is short, bittersweet, and may or may not go according to any plan. We’re lucky if it goes our way a few times.
“…Become resilient. Keep going. And then, keep going. How do you know the depths of your abilities if you’re not willing to test them.
“Give things up. Abhor addictions.
“Let yourself cry. When you’re hurting, let it out. The best way over an emotion is through it, not around it. You’re hurting for a reason, and you’re human, and it’s okay.
“Seek out the invisible. Find the patterns in your life you’re not seeing
“Do what seems impossible….
“Play. Your play is what makes you. Don’t play endless computer games behind a screen, but get outside and play with the world we’ve already been given. ‘When you stop having fun, you might as well be dead,’ says Hemingway.
“And don’t be frightened of death. It happens to all of us, we will die, and death will snatch us randomly and unpredictably when we’re not expecting it, and that’s okay. We will all die.
“And counter to that, we all have the opportunity to live.”
In her poem, “The Summer Day,” the poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Ironically, it is a good question to ask, I think, on this day that we remember the death of Jesus. Because, to repeat the quote from Marcus Aurelius with which I began, “… it is not death that men should fear, rather he should fear never beginning to live.” Oh, how Jesus lived. And, oh, how we are invited to do the same. Follow him and you will be changed. And you will have no reason to fear death. Amen.