Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 14, 2023
Father Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D.
St. Columba's Episcopal Church
Acts 17:22-31 + Psalm 66:7-18 + 1 Peter 3:13-22 + John 14:15-21
Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Grace to you, and peace, from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. + I speak to you in the name of the Three-in-One and One-in-Three. Amen.
With what hope did she weave the gentle womb of her offspring? With what grace, what precision: its walls perfectly round, nestled, knit together with the fragments of all that nature had discarded. Sheer artistry with nothing more than beak and talons. How she must have toiled and labored, guided by the secret wisdom of eons embedded, transmitted as if by some primeval magic in the very cells of her body. Such knowledge escaped me as I stared down upon her silent tragedy. This is the price she will pay for her mobility – the cost of living among the sky people. Unable to carry her little ones within her.
My gaze turned to prayer as I contemplated their fate. Such delicate beauty doomed by the weight of gravity and concrete. Only the indistinguishable fragments of shells, smashed and dashed on the stone patio beside her fallen nest. Three, maybe four chicks she had kept warm beneath her soft body awaiting the miracle of life.
I looked up to see her fatal flaw. In the dilapidated overhang of a Marconi Center building, a network of rusted iron, too narrow, too precarious to secure even this most delicate of nests. A predatory rodent, a gust of wind, and all she had worked for, all of her toils, the future of her fragile avian family dashed to pieces. As I prayed for their fate and hers, I wondered about the nests we build to incubate our dreams long before they hatch. How long we sit still over them, pondering, guarding and protecting, awaiting the moment our dreams, our plans, our hopes might at last take flight. And how many never do. In her book, The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell offers telling reflection:
“There's an old Jewish story that says in the beginning God was everywhere and everything, a totality. But to make creation, God had to remove Himself from some part of the universe, so something besides Himself could exist. So, He breathed in, and in the places where God withdrew, there creation exists. So, God just leaves? No. [she responds to her own question] He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us, and remembering. Matthew 10:29 [reads]: ‘Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Heavenly Father knowing it.’ But the sparrow still falls.”
I am not sure that our theology of incarnation leaves us with a God who merely “watches, rejoices, weeps, and observes the drama of human life” as if still distant from it or transcendent over it. If nothing else, ours is a God who participates in human life. Who in the flesh became what he loved – and not only human flesh, but by extension all ‘flesh.’ God, ‘clothing himself with the universe,’ as Gregory of Nyssa insists in his Catechetical Orations 25, became the very flesh of bird and sparrow too. This is the unknown God who Paul preached to the Athenians in our first reading today. Like the very air the sparrow breaths, the very wind that holds her aloft, ours is the God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Still Russell’s reflection is chilling as it is undeniable: “The Sparrow still falls.”
There is something of the specter of a fallen sparrow in each of the readings today, yet never without the hope in a God who makes all things new. In whom resurrection is always the final word. Paul, for all his efforts to spread the gospel, would meet the untimely fate of martyrdom. Yet the seeds of the communities he planted would spread throughout the world. Peter reminds us of what would no doubt have looked like the very end of the world in the Great Flood – but for the seed of hope and promise carried deep within the ark of Noah. The farewell discourse of Jesus in John’s gospel, promised that although the world would soon no longer see him, he would send another advocate – the Spirit Paraclete who even now continues to lead us to deeper truth. In each of these: martyrdom, the great flood, the crucifixion there is both a candid admission of tragedy and an unwavering insistence on hope.
What is the hope then, I wondered, for these little sparrows. Not yet even hatched. Never having seen the light of day. What is the meaning of their little lives not yet even lived. What does this mean for their mother who now must begin again the ancient work to which she is guided by her DNA. Is she tired, exhausted, defeated? Or has she already forgotten the dream of her still unborn chicks – taking again to flight, seeking a worthy mate to begin her preparations anew. Perhaps it’s both. Perhaps she will forever grieve what could have been, yet draw upon the wisdom – indeed the very promise – of the eons with a primordial hope that lives in the very hollow of her bones.
Perhaps her undying optimism, her beauty and skill, indeed her maternal capacity to nurture new life – even and most especially in the face of death – is what makes her the very revelation of God in the world is what makes her empty nest not merely a tragedy but a promise – no less than the empty tomb of Easter morning.
Perhaps her nest, so carefully woven, so lovingly attended, so richly infused with the hope of new life, though never serving the end she had intended, will give new live and meaning for us in ways she could have never imagined.
Perhaps by our very meditation upon her work she has unwittingly crafted a verse of scripture for each of us today; a sacrament consecrated by its brokenness to become the presence of God in our midst.
Perhaps at last, the very symbol of her empty nest, like the empty tomb of Easter, paradoxically reveals an ever-present God. A God who is not content to merely watch the sparrow fall as if from afar, but who by the Incarnation is so intimately woven within creation as to make the whole universe the nest of her maternal care. A mother who bears within her very being the promise and tenacity of life. It is she who bears us when our as-yet unhatched dreams are broken, when our toil is thwarted, and the promise of life cut short.
May the God of the sparrow bless us this day and may the nest she has woven for us hold us in her tender care both now and always.
Happy Mother’s Day.
+ Three in One and One in Three