Summary: Funeral message for Mrs. Annie McNeile, the mother and aunt of members of our church.
Everyone who lives in a family knows what it is to be responsible for another family member. If you are a mother, you feel responsibility for those whom you brought into the world; in fact, some mothers spend their whole lives and much of their energy feeling utterly responsible for everything their children do. Some mothers feel nothing but guilt, and the joy is lost. But mothers are responsible.
And fathers too. We really are. It feels as though fathers have had to endure long and loud lectures about being responsible. There’s an assumption that fathers don’t care in quite the same way – that we distance ourselves from our children more than mothers do. Well, I’ve never been a mother, and so I can’t get into the comparison game. But as the father of two thirty-somethings, I can tell you I feel very responsible toward them. Why else would I have trekked all the way over to Reston the other day, just to make sure our traveling son’s house was all right? We feel responsible! We care. Fathers and mothers alike.
Then there’s the responsibility brothers and sisters have for one another. If you were an older brother or sister when you were growing up, didn’t you just love it when Mom said, “I’m going out for a few minutes. Look after the little darlings.” How did that feel? Tell the truth, now. Didn’t you feel the power of it?! Authority! Wonderful! Until your little brother got frisky and said, “You’re not my Mom; you can’t tell me what to do.” But you felt responsibility, and you spent the rest of that hour before Mom came home rehearsing your speech about what problems the little rascal gave you. We are responsible for one another.
Jesus recognized that. In one of His last acts, in the midst of the incredible pain of the cross, Jesus remembered that in families we have responsibilities for one another. We care for one another. We do what has to be done for one another. But Jesus took it a step further. Jesus made family responsibility a gift. Jesus taught us to give and to receive care in extra-special ways.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
For the Flowers-McNeil family – your circumstances are different from these, but the dynamics are the same. It is not the son who has died, but the mother. Nonetheless, what the Lord Jesus gave at that moment is a gift available to you today. The gift of care and the gift of caring; the opportunity both to receive and to give love. Responsibility for one another.
I want you to imagine with me for just a moment the memories that were flooding through Mary’s mind as she stood and watched her son in agony. Imagine with me all that she must have felt at that incredibly painful moment.
Surely Mary had never forgotten the wonder of the birth of her son. Who is going to forget angels and shepherds and wise men and precious gifts? But no doubt she also remembered how, when she and Joseph took this precious infant to the Temple, someone had predicted that a sword would pierce her own soul. Responsible care always involves some pain.
And surely Mary could recall that moment when the twelve-year-old Jesus had asserted Himself and had lingered behind, pestering the Temple teachers with His questions. How irritated she had been, but He always seemed to hear another voice than her own. Responsible care always involves some degree of misunderstanding.
And I imagine that Mary, standing there, remembered other painful moments too: she remembered the embarrassment when they almost ran Jesus out of town for the things He said at a synagogue service; she remembered the astonishing rebuke when she came to take Him home and He shouted out that His real mother and brothers and sisters were those who do the will of God, not just the little crowd from Nazareth. Responsible care always involves puzzling, difficult times.
Surely Mary remembered the painful moments, the moments that she wished had been different. But now, in this hour, because He was her son, and that’s really all that mattered, she was here for Him. Now, in this moment of His ultimate degradation, dying a criminal’s death, spat upon and reviled, cursed and blamed, here she was. She knew, and you know, that when family members hurt, that’s where you have to be. It doesn’t really matter what has gone before, what has been said or done – all of that is water under the bridge now. We care. We are responsible for family members. And when they suffer, we have to be there. We just have to.