I remember the first time my parents met our kids. Shaw was six, maybe eight, weeks old and was asleep. My parents entered quietly, tiptoed up the stairs and gently opened the door. Then – never mind that he was asleep – my mother couldn’t help herself. She leaned over the crib and scooped him up. It had been over twenty years since she’d held an infant with any regularity, but she hadn’t forgotten the moves; she held him like an old pro. Olivia met my parents at their home. They came out when we pulled in the driveway. Ashley eased Olivia out of her car carrier and passed her to my mother, who held her close and futzed over her with grandmotherly cooing. Since she’s my mother, I could see in her eyes and hear in her voice the love she had for my kids. If infants could talk, I bet my kids would have said how wonderful it was to meet their grandparents, how much they loved being held, and how much they loved being loved.
For the last several weeks in the catechumenate, I’ve had my own experiences of feeling held in love. At the end of each catechumenate session we take turns praying for each other. We sit in the Sullivan Room and go around the circle taking turns saying a prayer for another person in the group. In our prayer, someone whom I know and love brings me before God, whom they know and love, and who in turn knows and loves them. I can’t help but wonder if the way I feel while being prayed for is similar to what my kids must have felt when being held by their grandmother: at ease and surrounded by love.
Thinking of my mother holding my kids, and thinking of being prayed for in the catechumenate, I am reminded of words from the Psalmist:
But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother’s breast;
my soul is quieted within me.
In today’s gospel lesson, in a passage known as the “high priestly prayer,” Jesus prays for his disciples. Jesus and the disciples were gathered in the “upper room.” Jesus has just washed the their feet, he has just commanded them to “love one another, as I have loved you,” and he has just delivered his farewell discourse before he departs to be crucified. The culmination of this discourse is the “high priestly prayer,” part of which we heard this morning:
Jesus prayed: “And now I am no longer in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.”
As I imagine what it was like when Jesus prayed for his disciples, I imagine them to be gathered in a circle, maybe around a low table, in a quiet room above the bustle of the street – not unlike the catechumenate. They hear Jesus’ soothing voice, the voice in whose tones over the past three years they had learned to recognize love. As Jesus concludes his speech, they hear a shift in his voice. It catches their attention, and they realize that Jesus is praying to the Father. And not only is Jesus praying to the Father, but he is praying for them!
I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
I wonder what it felt like for the disciples to hear Jesus praying for them? I wonder if they felt held or loved? I wonder if they felt like my children maybe felt when held by their grandmother: completely at ease, “[their] soul… quieted within [them], like a child upon its mother’s breast.” I wonder if the disciples heard in Jesus’ voice a bit of grandmotherly cooing and “futzing” over them?
We don’t know for sure what the experience was like for the disciples; nor do we know what the disciples may have said. But we do know what they did. On Maundy Thursday, the evening on which Jesus prayed for his disciples, we also remember what the Lord commanded us to do: “Take, eat… Drink this cup… Do this for the remembrance of me.” Jesus loves us always, and he loves us to the end. And in the Eucharist he gives us something we can do to remember his love, how we are “held,” how much we are surrounded by and invited into the love between the Father and the Son. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us his own flesh and blood to eat; the medieval mystics liked to say how Jesus opens his side and – like a mother feeding her infant – nourishes us of his own “milk.”
And so this morning, as we consider how Jesus prays for us as he prayed for his disciples, as we consider how Jesus invites us into the love between the Father and the Son, as we imagine how Jesus holds us and surrounds us with love, I want to leave us with a passage from Julian or Norwich, the 15th-century English mystic, who describes how Jesus is our Mother who loves us and holds us and feeds with his sacrament:
The mother can give her child suck from her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with Himself; and He does it most graciously and most tenderly with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Precious Food of true life… The mother can lay the child tenderly on her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can more intimately lead us into His blessed Breast by His sweet open Side, and show therein part of the Godhead and part of the joys of heaven…
The blessed Wound of our Savior is open and rejoices to heal us. The sweet gracious hands of our Mother are already and diligently about us…
I invite us, then, as we receive the sacrament this morning, to remember how much we are loved, how we are held, how in Jesus our Mother we can still our soul and make it quiet, like a child upon His breast.