When it was evening on… the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear…, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”After this he showed them his hands and his side.” (John 20: 19-20)
A Word of Hope
She rose to her tall and dignified stature, welcoming all in the priory dining room for a special Maundy Thursday buffet. When she began speaking, I thought maybe she was just hoarse, and she continued to the powerful opening call without hesitation: “Justice and faith comprise the liberating food for Christians. With Jesus we pray that our daily bread may be the bread and wine of justice and liberation….” Her quavering voice signaled a more permanent condition.
Later, she came to each table to offer us desert, her hands shaking in their own rhythm. But if it bothered her, she did not show it: her spirit was all kindness, her smile, all warmth. A man at our table, a vegan, could not eat the delicious chocolate cake and said he didn’t need dessert. But her well-practiced Benedictine ethic to treat all guests as Christ sent her back to the kitchen to have a bowl of fresh strawberries prepared for him.
Since one of the things I had carried to this Holy Week retreat was coming to terms with anxieties about aging, I watched this good sister attentively, knowing she had something to teach me. Generally, we take such pains to camouflage our infirmities, our woundedness. But Jesus bears his afflictions openly with the disciples. They mark him, define him, shape who he is. And Isaiah 53:5 foretells that that “by his wounds we are healed.”
The experience of the wounded Christ and the sister’s thriving in her affliction help me revision my own limitations in aging. And as I recall how living the pains of deep loss broke open my heart in greater compassion, allowing me to companion others, I am hopeful that the challenges of aging will do so as well.
After Holy Saturday dinner, three of us retreatants sat at table with the good sister, leaning in to hear a story about the sisters’ requests for community donations of multitudes of large-sized bras for women in Africa (a need brought by visiting African nuns). We laughed till tears came to our eyes imagining stacks and stacks of all colors and sizes of brassieres mounding the dining room tables and were inspired by the generosity of the community. But the richest treasure of our time away is the precious connection with the sister, her warmth and humor, intelligence and hospitality radiant and undiminished by her condition.
Resurrecting Christ, may the healing power of our wounds be blessed. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon