Encircled by Love
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
The only American artist to exhibit her work with the French Impressionists was Mary Cassatt. She was born in May 1844, grew up near Pittsburgh, PA but lived most of her adult life in France, where she befriended artists such as Edgar Degas.
Cassatt is best known for a series of expertly drawn, warmly observed, and unselfconscious paintings on the theme of mother and child. She’s famous, for me, because my mom hung a print one of her paintings in our home. I bet someone here has it too –or that most of you would recall having seen it. The original now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Child’s Bath, 1893, is one of Cassatt’s masterworks. In it, mother and young daughter are lovingly absorbed in the mundane bodily routine of bathing. The vantage point allows us to observe, but not to participate, in this most intimate scene. Somehow Cassatt invokes in us the memory, or perhaps, inspires in us the feeling of loving protection emanating from good mothering providing sturdy shelter to young lives and strong enough to encircle an entire house and make it a home. Cassatt brings us inside this circle of tender care.
The painting of Marry Cassatt offers us beautiful imagery for Mother’s Day. I bring it up because her work also offers us a way into today’s gospel. Cassatt invites the observer out of their narrow self-interest and into the expansive, other-focused and fully human selves God created and calls us to be in Christ Jesus. Abide in me, Jesus prayed, so that you may be one with one another, just as Jesus and the Father are one in the Spirit. (John 17:11)
Jesus invites us to live inside the circle of the Trinity, together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The 14thcentury anchoress, mystic, and theologian, Julian of Norwich used a little-known old English word to refer to the kind of enveloping and protective love that Mary Cassatt makes the subject of her paintings. She called it “Oneing.” Julian used it to describe the human encounter with God.
Notice how different this “oneing” is from the vision many of us grew up with of an angry God who must be appeased by Jesus so humankind will not be destroyed. Notice how different our faith lives become when we understand Jesus’ prayed so that we might be fully one with God now and not after we die.
This healing vision of union with the living God frees us from the prison of us against them thinking. The old familiar understanding always divided the world into mine and yours, one and other, same and different, better and worse. But Jesus prayed to move us
beyond that dualism so that mine and yours are reconciled into ours. One and other are transformed into one another. Same and different are harmonized without being homogenized or colonized. Us and them are united without loss of identity and without dividing walls of hostility.
God the Father includes the Son in full equality. Christ Jesus mirrors the Father’s self-giving and self-emptying love. The Holy Spirit is not subordinated as an inferior but is honored and welcomed as equal too, do you see what that means? God is characterized by equality, empathy, and generosity rather than subordination, patriarchy, and hierarchy. Jesus prayed that we might be made one with this divine life now.
On the night he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus prayed. “Holy Father, protect them in your name so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11) These chapters in John, after the Passover meal and before leaving for the garden are sometimes called the other lord’s Prayer, or perhaps, Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Jesus prays for us, the disciples, and his church just as the High Priest did on behalf of the people once a year inside the fabulous temple in Jerusalem, from behind the curtain within the holy of holies, and in the full presence of God. Now, according to today’s gospel, you are people for whom Jesus prays.
When might you have experienced this oneing kind of love? If we are lucky, perhaps we experienced it from our parents as a child. If you’ve ever been part of Immanuel’s prayer circle, David’s chain, when you knew people were praying for you each day when you’ve been at your lowest or facing a great challenge, then you know what a comfort it is to be bathed in the tenderness and compassion of prayer.
When might you have observed this kind of community where differences are transcended and what matters most is unity in Christ? Perhaps it was last Thursday as ECT youth led us in worship for the Ascension at Unity Lutheran? Young people of the church and the neighborhood, of different ages, abilities, racial groups and backgrounds were one with each other and in their joy in serving the gospel.
Or perhaps you glimpsed the oneing love of God last Sunday afternoon at the ONE Northside convention where diverse people from throughout the north side came together, united by their common values of the common good and of social justice to demand our elected leaders support affordable housing, police accountability, and mental health services.
Jesus prayed so that people might see the one life being lived in God now in us. Jesus prayed so that we might reveal the likeness of the divine image in which we are continually being created in this community. He prayed that others might recognize in us God’s standing invitation to enter the powerful protective circle of God’s life so as to surround their entire lives starting now with grace and be made whole.
This is the kind of alternative community embraced by the disciples and the first Christians that turned the Roman empire on its head. It is the same type of unity in diversity, joining heaven and earth together, Jesus calls us to embody now.
Jesus prayer for oneing is an urgent plea for what some call the Great Turning when society finally turns away from violence, guns, racism, poverty, prisons, war, and environmental destruction to seek a viable alternative right here—one heart, one home, and one block at a time.
In other words, on the night he was betrayed, while the rest of Jerusalem slept, Jesus prayed his little band of followers would become a church. He prays this for us now. In an obscure room, while no one was watching, something timelessly old and radically new was being unleashed upon the world. Like ripples from a stone, we are joined today in a great wave moving through history beginning with the disciples and carried forward today. The seed of grace God planted in you opens a door to oneing. Be joined to one another. Take shelter and rejoice within God’s encircling love now and for always. Amen.