We have heard much conversation during the last year about what we all have lost during the pandemic. Some have described it in terms of losing a year of their lives! For others it may actually be in terms of losing their religious practices. A recent Gallup Poll taken during this pandemic year discovered that for the first time less than half of Americans (47%) said they were members of a church, synagogue, or mosque.
Granted this has been a very trying year—not a good year to measure and discern religious practices when most places of worship have held only digital services on a video platform. We have many losses to grieve—starting with the dear ones we have lost to death. And still many of us find ourselves lapsing into some kind of puzzlement as to why this has happened and what meaning we are to take from it.
The words of Jesus that I quote above come from yesterday’s gospel text that was read at the worship services for many of us (in-person or online). In it, I believe, Jesus offers us the opportunity to turn our perspectives of what is happening to us on their heads. What is most important now and in the future days is how we live Jesus’ love in our lives going forward.
The emphasis in this part of Jesus’ last message to his disciples is that we are loved by God and Jesus in Jesus’ loving actions of giving his life on the cross for us! Then Jesus calls us friends—but a better, more literal meaning is that we are Jesus’ loved ones! In all that we do from our worship to our daily living to our service for others, we are Jesus’ community of loved ones!
The way in which the gospel writer John frames this community throughout his gospel is as a community of mutuality and presence with Jesus in living lives of loving service.
So the point of what this pandemic means to us now is the answer to this question: where do we (together) go from here into the future?
It is very much one of finding as many ways as we can as a community of loved ones to live out loving service in our lives from this time forward. We may find those opportunities in the work we do, the volunteer service we give, in the friendships we develop, yes maybe even in the church ministries in which we participate. I say “maybe even” here because as a community of loved ones our loving service is so much greater than the loving service we do through the specific ministries of our churches, synagogues and mosques.
This past week was National Nurses Week and NBC Nightly News on May 6 highlighted the service of Sona Daldumyan, a pediatric oncology nurse at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital for more than 20 years. Sona met Jed, a physician’s assistant, at work and later they married and raised three beautiful children. In 2016 Jed was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The couple decided to make memories with their children including renewing their wedding promises over and over again. Jed wanted to leave those memories for Sona and their children. But 18 months later, Jed died.
A month later Sona returned to work, giving her witness to the important service she was doing, “There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to come back to it. You can read books, but once you experience it yourself, your advice that you give to families is a lot more practical.” One of the families Sona has touched is Nicole Shahari’s family. Her daughter Gaby had a rare bone cancer. Nicole said of Sona, “She walked right along side me. She just gives so much love and so much comfort.” For Sona, her patients give back, “I just love them for who they are; that really touches a place in my heart and I just appreciate them for who they are.”
Sona’s story, I believe, points us to the way forward out of the pandemic living as a community of the loved ones of Jesus. As we share our love and care for others, then we are showing the world that God’s love is alive and God very much enters into the worst that life can throw at any or all of us to bring new life to all the world through the community of the loved ones of Jesus!
If you want more encouragement as to how to live in a community of loved ones, I recommend Bishop Michael Curry’s recent book Love is the Way
God who loves us unconditionally, thank you for leading and shaping us to be your loved ones. Help us to find community not only among your baptized people but also in our world among those who receive our loving service or give the same to us. May we use our own experiences of loss and pain to help others heal and know love. Amen.