Also see: In Memoriam Maggy Laws Brimelow
Romans 8:35, 37-39
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
We have just heard read two passages from Scripture that, each in its own right, stands as a monument to the power of words to communicate that which is almost beyond the realm of communicating.
Each offers a vision of consolation and hope amidst the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life.
Paul writes, in his epistle to the Romans, sublime poetry enumerating those elements of the earthly journey that so often threaten us and strike fear into us…tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, the sword, as well as those forces that so strangle the spirit…principalities, evil powers, fear of death…and on and on…concluding with his absolute and unequivocal dismissal of even a hint that any of these…not a single one…or even all taken together…can separate us from the love of God as we can come to know it in Christ. It is among the great and eternal witnesses against the power of anything on earth to overcome the power of the Creator of all things…all things from before time and through time and beyond time.
It is a vision upon which to cling in all times…and certainly in those inevitable times of difficulty encountered in our journeys.
The second is equally reassuring, for, in response to Martha's terrible struggling with coming to understand the reality of death in the life of her brother, Jesus assures her that these matters are not so complicated as we make them…that her brother's eternal inheritance is beyond doubt in his conviction of the power of this itinerant preacher from Nazareth…this one who is able to say without hesitation, "I am the resurrection and the life…"
Again, it offers powerful clarity in a time of deep uncertainty and confusion.
Yet, ironically, I am struck by the fact that, taken together, these two offer a vision more difficult to accept than each taken individually. Taken together, they promise something I am less sure reassures…at least at first. If Christ is the resurrection and the life…and the life he lived is the path each who would seize that life would follow…then it is one that is fearful…for it leads to betrayal and a cross and a painful and humiliating death. And Paul seems to echo this reality as he holds before me so much that is fearsome in this life and asserts that it is the experience of these things that will confirm that they cannot separate me from God.
These are not notions I wish to engage…not notions I suspect any of us wishes to engage. The confrontation to which they call us is…as I suggested…fearsome.
I have known Maggy Brimelow for some twelve years. Seldom have I known a human being with a mind so restless…so inquiring…so discerning. Maggy came, for me, to personify, as few others, the incarnation of the words uttered at each of our baptisms as God is asked to bestow upon the newly baptized…"an inquiring mind and a discerning heart…the courage to will and to persevere…and the gift of joy and wonder at all God's works." Maggy simply would not give up until she had found an answer…but, some answers do not lend themselves to discovery, and so, there were times in which Maggy was deeply conflicted and unable to find peace. You see, we pray for inquiring minds and discerning hearts, but they are not always easy gifts with which to deal.
Her uncertainties never centered for that matter on her children or her husband…her deep and abiding love for them…her friends…her absolute loyalty to them…or, for that matter, those with whom she had little patience (Maggy did not suffer fools gladly). Her struggles came, more often than not, with matters of Faith…of how one is to live faithfully as a Christian in a confusing world…of what it is to which one is called if one is to be faithful to the mind of Christ…of what path one is to follow. With the advent of the damnable cancer that eventually took Maggy from us, these questions became increasingly difficult and Maggy's wrestling with them increasingly complex.
But never, in all the vicissitudes of the last seven years, did Maggy give up. She just wrestled harder…both with the questions and with the disease itself. I shall never forget her bringing me a bowl containing one of the largest and foulest smelling mushrooms I have ever encountered and asking if we could keep it in my Office, for she needed to drink, for its beneficial effect, the broth in which the mushroom was growing but was concerned how the house might smell if it were kept there. When Maggy was on a quest, one didn't say "No" to her…though I often wonder, to this day, how visitors to my Office might have pondered concerning my personal hygiene during those months of the mushroom's residence.
It was two years ago this coming Maundy Thursday night…a night when, in this Parish, many members take their turn keeping vigil in this Chapel with our Lord in the agony of his betrayal, trial, and condemnation into the morning hours of Good Friday. In the overwhelming darkness of the rest of the building and the night outside, this wee small Chapel glows with the light of a hundred candles. The reserve sacrament rests on the altar…flowers on either side of it. It is a pin-point of light aglow in the midst of a world writhing in darkness and agony. I come to the Chapel numerous times during the night, quietly pray, insure that all is well, and return to my bed. On one of those trips two years ago, Maggy was the only other person here. I knelt. I prayed. I rose to leave, and she said, "Please stay a moment." I sat next to her, and she, very softly in words I believe I quote almost exactly, said, "It comes down to this doesn't it?" I waited. She went on, "It comes down to accepting that the path he walked is the path we will all walk…and believing that, in his triumph, will be our triumph. Our own gardens of Gethsemane are no different from his."
No hint of despair in her words, but, from that night on, Maggy seemed to me to have found a peace I had not seen in her before. She didn't, in any manner, give up…indeed, she fought all the harder…but it was in a different manner and in a different arena. It came to me to seem an acceptance of that incredibly uncomfortable reality to which I referred earlier and which she had engaged that night in the Chapel.
It was her gift…her gift to you and to me…if we will accept it and see it. She not only understood intellectually, but lived out in her journey these last years, a deepening awareness that, even in the midst of horrifying darkness, she was surrounded in the glow of a light that was hers in those she loved…in Peter…in Alexander…in Hannah-Claire…in those who cared for her…in you and in me…and in the one upon whom more and more of her hope hung as she confronted her own uncertain Gethsemane.
I pray each of us saw some of that in Maggy and accepted the gift her life offered. For, if we did, then we know, with far more certainty than before, that in his triumph is her triumph…and that, in his arms, she rests at peace for all eternity.