Monday, January 11, 2016

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

The texts for the Second Sunday after Epiphany are:

John 2:1-11
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10

My commentary on these texts focuses on the Psalm and on the Epistle.

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This is the first miracle attributed to Jesus in John’s Gospel. I think a lot about miracles. Patients ask me to pray for miracles.  Sometimes I bear witness to miracles. But a lot of the time, I bear witness to unfulfilled prayers for miracles. And sometimes, I wish I could order up a miracle.

I care for pediatric patients in one of the hospitals where I work.  I got to know a patient who will likely not make it into the double digits. It seems so miraculously unfair. This vibrant soul, who is precocious and hilarious and gentle, needs a miracle. But this little patient will most likely not see a miracle.

And this hurts. I wish I could order up a miracle like Jesus ordered up wine for this wedding. There’s very little comfort in saying, “God is with you.” I wrestle with faith and what God is up to in so much pain. But in all my frantic grasping, one of the few things I can hold onto is, “God does stuff.”  God makes something out of nothing. I don’t know how it works, but God does stuff. In the form of water into wine and in the form of joy in ICUs, despite all evidence to the contrary.  God does stuff.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

I spend a lot of time working with patients experiencing cognitive decline.  Who flicker in and out of awareness.  Whose spirits are still whole, but whose minds are fragmented into memories of now, then, and never.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Every once in awhile, I see a flicker of vibrant spirit and of the beautiful soul that exists behind the wall of the dementia. The gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit that are still there. I visited a patient recently who was a pianist. Who was in the grip of dementia, frantically pacing the halls searching for the world, and would sit down at the piano and play a perfectly executed minuet or sonata in between laps. The river of music trickling down the hall of the memory care unit, bringing beauty into such a dark place.

All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Our elders with dementia, tucked away in euphemistically named “gardens” and “villas” and “neighborhoods” for their own protection and the protection of our sensibilities, have abundant gifts of the Spirit.  The mystery of what the Holy Spirit is up to never ceases to amaze me. And sometimes inspires me to sit down at the piano and play a minuet myself.

Psalm 36:5-10
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
 your judgments are like the great deep;
   you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!

I get the honor of seeing steadfast love in action all the time.  Of adult children who care for their aging parents in living rooms. Of nurses and aides who wipe foreheads and offer water tenderly. Of elderly parents who sit at the bedsides of their middle aged children. Of people who show up day after day in love.

Human love is imperfect, but it is beautiful. And I think it is God’s steadfast love that helps us love one another. This psalm is one of praise, but I think it is also one of pleading with God to continue to show up. Of begging in the dark of night, “Continue your steadfast love!” Because caretaking is love all jumbled up with pain.

A son asks me, “Does it mean I love him less if I resent him sometimes?”

A daughter weeps, “I wish sometimes she would just die in her sleep, and then I don’t have to worry about her anymore.”

In your light we see light. All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

I pray a lot for deep peace and rest. For families and patients to know the deep comfort that can only be found in the divine, because comfort on this side of heaven can be so fleeting. 

Lord, shelter your beloved under your wings. Help them take refuge from the burden of loving.  Love them steadfastly.

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