Just a couple of days ago we found ourselves singing at the stable and today with John, we find ourselves standing at the entrance to the empty tomb gazing in wonder and expectancy. Like John we see and we believe. Like John what we see is more than the folded grave clothes and what we have come to believe is more than the empty tomb.
As I continue in my own spiritual journey I am interested in hearing how others have moved from one embraced understanding of God’s presence in their lives and in our world to another. For example, how did St. John move from being nicknamed by our Lord as one of the Sons of Thunder to being identified by Christ as the Apostle of Love. It seems to me that is a pretty big leap, especially if we look at some of the details of John’s early life and discipleship. Likewise how did Mother Hannah move from being a grieving widow to founding this Community of St. John the Divine.
For us as individuals and as members of this Sisterhood, it has been a long journey from a renovated stable on Robinson Street to this beautiful convent on Cummer Avenue. Likewise, it has been a long journey for [many] each of us from where we have been to where we presently are. On the day of our Patronal Festival, it is fitting that we take time to reflect. As someone reminded me recently, it is only in remembering where we have come from that we are able to appreciate the distance we have gone. In looking back we are able to acknowledge those who have been part of our formation along the way.
Personally speaking I was interested in exploring the relationship [as presented in our name, “The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine.”] between St. John the Divine, Mother Hannah, and this present community. At a glance the answer to this musing may seem obvious — we like St. John wish to be ‘Apostles of Love’ — or as G.H. Houghton put it in his letter of September 4, 1884, to Sr. Hannah:
“May the name which your Sisterhood is to bear be an indication of the Love which is to pervade and animate it; that all the members are indeed in a very special sense, ‘beloved of the Beloved’; are every mindful of the words, ‘Little children, love one another’; and that the things and thoughts and aims heavenly, are things and thoughts to which they are given.” (81 Memoir)At a glance the answer to this musing may seem obvious: we are a religious community and we are supposed to be loving. Some assume that by virtue of our title and where we live, we are naturally H-O-L-Y, holy. In truth we don’t come to this place H-O-L-Y, holy; we come WHOLLY, filled with all manner of wholes that need Divine attention. We learn to love because we come to realize that God first loved us. When we realize this for ourselves we want to share it with others.
The relationship between St. John, Mother Hannah and this community is that we all share in a brokenness that has been transformed and continues to be transformed through the resurrecting touch of Christ. The relationship that we share in and that may be observed in the transformation which takes place in our lives and work, is a direct result of the intentional individual and corporate relationship we have with Christ through prayer and service.
While John was given a privileged place with Christ as part of his inner circle of three, he like us like Mother Hannah was very ‘human’. Remember, this is the same John who was jealous and resented what he perceived as competition from rival miracle workers. This is the same John who insisted on the best seat in the kingdom of heaven for himself. This is the same John who when he saw Jesus being rejected by a village of Samaritans asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lord, if they are not for us, let’s wipe them out.) Jesus rebuked John as he had earlier rebuked Peter.
Somewhere in John’s journeying with Jesus, however, the thunderclouds broke and this Son of Thunder was transformed into the Apostle of Love whose name and devotion to Christ we, as a community, strive to emulate. So, when did it happen? When did this change in John occur? Was it as he watched our Lord being transfigured on the mountain? Was it at the raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead or may as he waited sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane? Could it have taken place as he stood with Mary at the foot of the cross? We don’t know. We often don’t know when and where the specific changes in our attitudes and ways of being take place. What we do know is a change has occurred. What we believe as members of the body of Christ is that God’s transforming love in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us has everything to do with the change.
Mother Hannah’s life and work is a testament to the faith and belief she had in the power of God to change the circumstances of the needy whom she served. Her faith and belief that God would provide through the generosity of others supporting her work in Christ is a faith and belief we continue to share today. It would not be possible for us to carry on the work we have been called to do in this place without the generous support and dedication to this ministry that is so freely given by our Anglican Church here in Canada and specifically by our Oblates, Associates, staff, volunteers, friends and partners [benefactors] in the religious life. Thank you!
Just as St. John faced the challenges of forming the early church in his time and Mother Hannah bore the challenge of beginning the only Sisterhood of its kind in her native land in her time, so we also bear the challenge of ministering in our time. We are not a new church and we are not a newly formed community. Our challenge is to spread an old gospel in a new way to a world that is largely indifferent to the message. The challenge for the ministry that we live with as a Sisterhood and members of the Anglican Church of Canada requires no less effort, persistence, faith and belief in our Lord’s sustaining presence than it did of St. John or Mother Hannah.
The evidence of Christ’s ever-present, sustaining devotion to us and with us in this ministry is sure!
Although three of our Sisters — Sr. Helena, Sr. Thelma-Anne and Sr. Madeleine Mary — were received back into the loving arms of our creator God this year, four new seekers have come to test their vocation in SSJD. In serving with you, we also participate in carrying out the mission and ministry of this household that was begun 127 years ago; as we learn the rule, the traditions and the ministry, we are finding our call alongside your call. At our Annual Chapter in August, each Sister reaffirmed her call to serve our Lord in this place through serving “the World God Loves” thus setting an example to us of your faith and devotion as the “beloved of the Beloved”.
As a Sisterhood, we confident that our Lord is leading us into new ventures in ministry even as we are being invited to embrace new partnerships. We continually pray for direction and the wise discernment necessary to follow our Lord in faith to the places to which we are being called. We are up to the challenge.
Finally I leave you with this quotation from Philip Yancey:
“The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step and set right all that is wrong. Rather they are to make the new heaven and the new earth and by so doing awaken longing for what God will some day bring to pass.”
May we by the grace of God offer a glimpse of the kingdom to this world through our lives and our
service that have been transformed and continue to be transformed by God’s love. Amen.