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60 Seconds – Br. Mark Brown

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Hebrews 10:19-24; Psalm 27: 5-11; John 4: 23-26

“Do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love.  Why does he reveal it to you? For love… So I was taught that love was his meaning.”

Words of Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English mystic whom we remember today. In her “Revelations of Divine Love”, the “Showings,” she recalls that “when she was young” she desired and prayed for “three graces by the gift of God”: 1) recollection of the Passion of Christ, 2) bodily sickness to the point of death, 3) the gift of three spiritual wounds. “When she was young” she wanted these things to happen at the age of thirty—and they did.

The bodily sickness was to take her to the very threshold of death, to the point of believing she was about to die and to have received last rites. She would then record what she experienced, and share it with others. She wrote down her visions, and then after some years of reflection, wrote a longer version. The “Showings” are rich fare indeed and one sermon can’t do justice to it all. So, rather than attempt that, I’ll use her deathbed perspective as a springboard for my own reflections, with Julian hovering in the background.

We don’t need to be deathly ill to be at the threshold of death.  We could be, at this very moment, at the threshold. Besides what our bodies can surprise us with, we live in a universe of meteorites and sinkholes and sociopaths with guns and other mishaps that can bring death suddenly and unannounced.  Very unlikely—but possible.  We do not know the hour or the day.

So let’s do a little thought experiment: How would we wish to live if we knew we had one more minute to live?  How would we wish to live if we had one more hour to live?  One more day? Another week or month or year?  Another ten or twenty or even eighty years?

What if it were just one more minute? Assuming I had my wits about me, and with only seconds remaining, I think my desire would be simply to surrender into the loving embrace of our merciful God, in as full and intentional a way as I could muster; a complete surrender, knowing that something unimaginably wonderful was about to happen.  You might answer this question in another way, but I think my last intention would be surrender, surrender to Divine Love.

What if we knew we had just one more hour? Well, a whole hour of time expands the options considerably. I think the two things most on my mind would be gratitude and reconciliation. I would want to express gratitude for the life I had been given, gratitude for family and friends, gratitude for the many wonderful experiences of my life, gratitude for the wonder and beauty of life on this planet, gratitude for the kindness and love shown me by others.  And gratitude for the love of Christ made manifest in my own life, imperfect as this may have been.

With an hour, reconciliation would also be on my mind. Remorse and contrition for any damage done and unrepaired. I would seek as much reconciliation as might be possible in an hour. And I would be thinking about that final surrender.  If you had an hour, what would you do?

What if we knew we had just one more day?  Well, a whole day of time expands the options considerably. In addition to the afore-mentioned things, I’d probably read the New York Times—I like to know what’s happened in the world, what’s happening and what’s about to happen. I’d plan some enjoyable outing, maybe to a place where I could soak up the beauty of this earth one more time (the colors, textures, forms! Earth, air, fire and water! Living things!)  Maybe I’d plan a really nice meal or listen to some favorite music. And I’d have time for those last conversations. I might be on the telephone a lot if I had as much as a day.

What if we knew we had just one more week?  Well, a whole week of time increases the possibilities exponentially.  It may be too late to learn a new foreign language or take up a new musical instrument, but lots can be done in a week. With as much as a week we can be creative, we can undertake initiatives—we can do stuff to make the world a better place.  We could perform random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. We could indulge in gratuitous generosity.  A whole week of time is enough for the loving-kindness of God to be manifest in us in some amazing ways. (By the way, in all this I’m assuming we’re not sick in bed.)

What if we knew we had just one more month? Or a whole year?  Or ten or twenty or eighty years? Well, again, exponential increases in sheer possibility.  Imagine what the love of Christ, active within us, embodied in us, might accomplish in 80 years! Deeds of valor and compassion.  Music and art and marvelous inventions. Deep thoughts, creative ideas! New things! New people!  New friends! Wrongs set right.

Of course, we don’t know if we have another eighty or twenty or ten years.  Or one year or one month or one week.  Or just a day.  Or an hour.  A minute. We could, even now, be on the very threshold. We don’t know. So, the only sensible thing is to live as if anything can happen.  When we’re twenty years old, we should live as if we had eighty more years—and as if we had just one more minute—and everything in between.

Contemplation of our mortality, reflection on the possibility that “the future” could be as little as one minute or as much as eighty years raises our awareness of the present moment, our awareness of the fierce urgency of Now.  The things that pertain to the last moments of life are the same things that can enhance a life extending far into the future: surrender into the arms of a loving and merciful God can transform all our days.  Deep gratitude and reconciliation belong to every day, not just our last. The things that would be most important to us if time were short are the very same things that ought to be important to us should the time be long.

What if we made a regular practice of surrendering into the loving arms of God, knowing that something unimaginably wonderful was about to happen?  I wonder if we’d be quite so anxious and fearful if we recognized that we may indeed be standing even now at the threshold.  I wonder if we would live so timidly?

There was a movie a few years ago about two guys who made a list of things they wanted to do before they “kicked the bucket.” What would your bucket list include if you knew you had 80 more years?  Twenty? Ten? One? A month, week, a day.  An hour.  What would be on the bucket list for your last minute?  It might be complete surrender to the love of God, knowing that something unimaginably wonderful was about to happen.

It may be something else for you.  But whatever it is, it belongs to the Now.  How we would spend our last seconds on the threshold has enormous power to transform all our days, even if today is the first of many, many more.

The Lady Julian should have the last word. “So I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning.  And I saw very certainly in this and in everything that before God made us he loved us, which love was never abated and never will be. And in this love he has done all his works, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us, and in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had beginning, but the love in which he created us was in him from without beginning. In this love we have our beginning, and all this shall we see in God without end. Thanks be to God.”

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17 Comments

  1. Today | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on April 23, 2017 at 00:06

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  2. a city monk on April 30, 2016 at 19:01

    Yes, it is true… it is quite possible to separate my dying from my death. Some might call it detachment but that always sounds so horizontal and about things.
    the stuff…
    Dying is at the beginning, a slow motion loss of control. Paul’s belt taking your where you do not want to go. Henri Nouwen Spirituality of waiting, waiting to die, has 7 gifts…patience, loss of control, living in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility … The last one being trust in God. Keen motivation to get on with my waiting to die. So by the grace of God, a person could well be done with dying at a remarkably early age, without a deadly disease in the wings. How, I practice waiting, in a grocery line or baggage claim check… matters not… for such sweet surrender is enriched with gifts along the way.
    Living mindfully, living consciously, in increments of 30 seconds, a minute, an hour… has rewards and a disarming of the ego that is worth price of admission.

    • Ruth West on April 23, 2017 at 22:56

      I loved your comments, City Monk. I especially like the seven gifts you mentioned from Henri Nouwen. Some I have not thought of as “gifts.”
      But with life, with breath in our bodies, each of them would be a gift. God has been so good to me throughout my 86 years. You mentioned “sweet surrender”, and a disarming of the ego, living mindfully, consciously, one minute at a time. No doubt, you have discovered the secrets of a good life!
      Thanks to you and to Br.Mark for this sermon and remarks.

  3. Michael on April 30, 2016 at 09:06

    That death is standing on the threshold of something wonderful is an interesting idea

  4. Ruth West on September 22, 2015 at 14:48

    Dear Br. Mark, thanks for this soul-searching sermon. At my age (85) I am aware that I very likely do not have a long span of years ahead of me, but I can surrender and re-surrender to His will day by day. That I want to do, and am doing, with God’s help.

  5. Christopher Engle Barnhart on September 21, 2015 at 07:50

    If I had a short time to live I would ask forgiveness for thing done and left undone in my life from not only those closest to me but from God.

  6. Marta e. on April 22, 2015 at 06:15

    Years ago (40?), I vividly remember a radio program interviewing an elderly man (80 years old?). He spoke about us life being a “meditation”. Forty years later, this has more meaning for me. And, now I understand that this gives much more meaning: the choice to drop out negative memories, to refashion memories, seeing Christ/Jesus present in the past memories and present in the active present, and opportunities for choice in the present, and how to hold the present with the future of the Kingdom of God and eternity more presently imminent. The joy of being able to be more “present” because Christ is more present with my memories of God’s active action in my life and the lives of my loved ones, which gives me confidence in God’s presence, not only now but forever after, even to the end of the age. It’s like weaving a tapestry, being surrounded with the memories and expectations of God’s love. Life becomes a meditation.

  7. Mary Howe on April 11, 2015 at 22:47

    Thank you for such a beautiful and meaningful message this day. Blessings and Peace.

  8. Nicki on April 11, 2015 at 19:15

    Thank you Emily; I’ll be 80 next month with a little quavering. My first reaction to Brother Mark’s sermon was, that I need a long time to receive his message about God’s love, a topic which seems to be my major task this Spring, to receive, believe and to live in recognition of, at least within myself to myself. Then I saw the word NOW, and I realized the need to push aside plans and just do! Your thoughts are touching indeed. Thank you both very much!

  9. Emily Osborn on April 11, 2015 at 12:56

    I can’t image past a year or so because I am 88. However, I am well and have a daily ministry, making a home and caring for my 97 year old husband. If I had a week I would write a letter to each of my children, grand-children and great grandchildren and several to close younger friends telling them how Jesus loves them and I do too Emily

  10. Kristy on April 11, 2015 at 10:53

    Someone selects helpful books to leave for the watchers between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and this year included a copy of Julian’s book in a different translation/version than I was familiar with. I tried to recall what I knew and compared it to what was to hand. And this version is different still.

  11. Polly Chatfield on April 11, 2015 at 10:19

    Thank you, Mark, for your expansive meditation on those words of Dame Julian. If we see, as she did, the whole of creation as but a tiny nut in God’s hand we can feel something of her amazement that we have been loved into being at all.

  12. Lisa on April 11, 2015 at 08:44

    Thank you for an instructive and insightful sermon. It touches on intentionality – being intentional about the way we spend our days, paying attention to the trajectory of our lives. Does love follow us in our wake?

  13. Tom on April 11, 2015 at 07:27

    So much of my life is filled with plans to do “later” or “next year” or “when I retire.” Thank you for the reminder that there is no later, there is only the present moment which, by the grace of God, may extend past the next second or year. I have indeed contemplated my “bucket list” and it is amazing how focused it becomes on simply BEING when that time-frame becomes short. Blessings on your continuing ministry!

  14. Muriel Akam on April 11, 2015 at 06:43

    A very comforting and thought provoking sermon- the last moments of one’s life is something that we do not wish to contemplate very often. it is reassuring to know that God loves us and is there for us at all times.

  15. Roderic Brawn on April 11, 2015 at 06:14

    This sermon crystallizes what we need to do. I wonder whether young people whom people influence them, teachers, parents, coaches and clergy, for example, realize that more than anything they need to witness this kind of commitment. Having worked with some young people I know that when a student loves enough to commit to what they can do well and work for all trusting in God a full life is in the offing.

  16. Derald Stump on May 11, 2012 at 10:24

    Very moving and helpful sermon — thank you, Brother Mark ! I would add but one item from our beloved Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

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