This week, while I was sitting on the back porch of the parsonage, a beautiful red cardinal flew in and perched on the wrought iron fence. It was so unexpected that even Gus, our bird dog, cocked his head and just watched the cardinal from his spot on the grass. The cardinal has returned each day for a visit, at the same spot on the fence. And it has made me wonder: is this a new visitor? Or has he always been coming, and our family has just never slowed down to notice?
So much of our life has slowed, and in so many ways not for the better. We are separated from family and friends, from work. We have lost the freedom to toast anniversaries and birthdays with people who don’t live in our homes. We can’t hug or shake hands. We can’t even smile at others in the grocery store because masks hide our faces from one another.
But what have we gained – this small, but not insignificant silver lining? A chance to pay attention, to pause, to be more mindful. Our streets are quiet, especially at night – what can we hear? Unable to make small talk, what can we see on our walks? Just as there have been signs of Mother Nature restoring the balance – dolphins in the Venice Canal, for one – is this also a chance for us to see a new world, one we have been missing before? Is your cardinal – whatever form it takes in your life – a new element? Or was that cardinal always there?
Our gospel this morning is also about a paradigm shift, a reframing of the world, and our relationship to God. Jesus, in a prayer to God, speaks on our behalf. He talks about making God known to the followers, and that now, even though he may be gone, God must also know them. “They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”
Jesus speaks of the friendship, the counsel, and the comfort he received from the disciples and others he met along the journey. They believed and had faith, but more than that they carried out the works of the gospel – charity, kindness, justice. So, Jesus makes clear: he is not asking on behalf of the entire world, as if we are some faceless collective; he is asking on behalf of each individual doing good works or trying to do good. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, I have been glorified by God.”
Jesus claims us as students, followers, and friends; and Jesus asks God to do the same. It is a different relationship from the distant divine; it is a familial relationship with God, the best kind, that accepts us, and knows us, flaws and all.
The second reading is a description of our calling in response to Jesus’s going to God on our behalf. We are to be humble, to risk for the sake of the gospel. We should take our anxieties to God – and surely, we have many at the moment – and know that God will shoulder them for us because we are cared for. We must be disciplined – to stay alert for the many ways we stumble in this life, the many temptations that entice us away from a gospel-led life: pride, vanity, selfishness, and anger. “Like a roaring lion, your adversary the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour,” we are warned, and yet we know the devil we must be most watchful for prowls around inside each of us. And then we are reminded that we are in this effort of faith together: “[k]now your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” And yet when all is done, we have a promise: we will be restored, supported, strengthened, and established. In our faith, we will find firm footing.
This is a relationship with God meant to change the world. We are not dictated to; we are given a mission if we choose to accept it. We are cautioned that it will be hard going. And yet we are told that we can seek the counsel of God, through prayer and community, and that we will be kept safe. We are not alone, though we may feel it. We have God, and we have one another.
Indeed, Jesus answers my question about the cardinal, this presence of calm and beauty. God was always there, but we weren’t always paying attention. Jesus reminds of what that relationship can be like when we lean on what we know of the gospel. It is one of mutual respect that thinks the best of us. An example for us in all our relationships.
We have a chance, in our slower days, to watch for our own cardinals. To wonder, how did I not them before? What prevented me? And, more importantly, how can I keep seeing them all my life?
We now face the next challenge in this pandemic, as the province slowly reopens, one step at a time. It is our job as God’s people to do this responsibly, to follow the guidelines, to be patient with others, to educate ourselves about the science. In this time of suffering, we are called to be just as the second lesson described: disciplined, humble, and alert to our lesser natures that may make us impatient and careless with our dealings with other.
I watch for the cardinal now. I am learning to look for it. I think of that as progress, an intentionally sought reminder of my covenant with God. My wish for you this week, is that you also find your cardinal, whatever form it takes.