Thursday, January 28, 2016

Vigil with the Word: Year C, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

A.Kumm-Hanson, Boulder, CO 2010. 
My Vigil with the Word this week focuses on the Epistle on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year C.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

This passage is easily recognizable. It is frequently read at weddings, a day where we publicly profess love and commitment to one another. Love is patient and love is kind…sometimes.  But even the most perfect human love comes with impatience and selfishness and carelessness, because that is what it means to be human. This chapter is not an admonition to “love better.” 

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I am witness to extraordinary examples of love.  I see spouses who eat meals everyday together in memory care units, the husband tenderly caring for his wife, who has not recognized him in years.  I witness adult children caring for their parents in love, bathing and washing and changing them. I witness parents loving their dying children until the end, even as every fiber of their being screams “This is not how it is supposed to be!”

But I also see people who don’t have families to love them.  Who are tucked into care centers and adult group homes or in the hospital alone.  We refer to them as “unaccompanied patients” or “un-befriended patients.”  This burden of sadness threatens to swallow me some days as seeing lonely people suffer is the most difficult part of my job.  It is because of this that I refuse to accept that this passage is only about romantic love or familial love.  This chapter from 1 Corinthians is further illuminated if we look at what comes before it and after it. 

Immediately before the passage, we hear Paul’s exhortation that the church is one body, with many members and that each has spiritual gifts to offer to the greater body. After, Paul returns to this topic about how gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues can benefit the church. He says nothing about spouses loving each other or parents loving their children. It is about being in community and loving one another because we are first loved by a God who walks among us.

I know God walks in nursing homes and ICUs and in homes with hospital beds and oxygen tubing snaking about. Because God’s love shows up in tender nursing assistants and priests who offer communion and comfort to people they’ve never met because a strange chaplain (that’s me!) asked them to do so and in recreation therapists who design activities to stimulate slipping minds and in housekeepers who pause their cleaning to chat with those in the bed.

We are the body of Christ.  We are called to love those who are forgotten.  Not just the sick, but the imprisoned, the refugee, those who are homeless, those who are bound in addiction, and the most unlovable. Because we are made from love and with love. Because love came down and walks among us.

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