Easter 5A: I will prepare a place. (The Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Hospitals are often busy and noisy places…

all around people are moving, often quickly,

announcements can be heard overhead,

incessant beeping,

blaring alarms…

the hustle and bustle never seems to stop….

unless you find yourself into the NICU….or neonatal intensive care unit, like I did a year ago today….

At 3:30 am, after the babies have been fed and tended to,

they get tucked back into their little isolettes (incubators),

the lights are dimmed,

the nurses sit down and begin their charting….

the silence is pierced only

-by an occasional warning beep of an oxygen monitor

-the musical melody of a completed feed, by the feeding tube

-or the muffled whimper of a little one trying to get back to sleep

In this space….in this calmness…

While I sit in my rocker with a wrinkly, wriggly 8 week old laying square on my chest, hung-over on milk and tucked warmly under the hospital blankets that somehow exude the inescapable smell of maple syrup

….there is a peace which passes all understanding….

….a peace which took weeks for me to uncover in this place that so many parents worst nightmares come true.

….a place where what is often people’s happiest days of their life takes a bitter turn into a world of worry, uncertainty and heartbreak….

Surrounded by this overwhelming sense of peace…

I sat there and rocked in my chair…trying to take it all in.…..

then the pagers started going off….

and the nurses once at their computer terminals quickly jumped to their feet….

-they seemed to work almost in silence as they whizzed around the NICU….

– members of the advanced life saving team, begin to cover their navy scrubs with pull on protective gear, hair caps, and booties…

-the panda,also known as the emergency isolette, is being prepped for transport, checked and double checked, the nurse gives a thumbs up and is promptly pushed beyond the double doors by the nurses dressed  head to toe in light blue disposable gear making them appear like something from out of this world.

       -iv tubing is being cleaned and double checked

-Prescriptions are put on standby

-a surgical cart is being prepped

-ex ray machines are called in

-the heat in the incubator is turned up

-doctors start arriving

– with a sense of urgency but also an overwhelming sense of calm …everyone gets to work

I had seen this scene dozen’s of times since we first arrived weeks ago…
but this time…
this time… was different….

this time my mind wandered…..and all I could hear was this passage from John’s Gospel we heard today…. “do not let your hearts be troubled…….believe in God….believe also in me.”

It was the first-time God felt present in the midst of what had been weeks of pain, uncertainty, exhaustion and loneliness…and the message was one of pure comfort….

But it was something far greater than just regular comfort.

It was as if for the first time I had received clarity about the immeasurable and unfathomable love of God that John was trying so hard to articulate, in these final moments of Jesus’ life.

Because the passage we heard today is one of the options for funeral readings, it is one I am quite familiar with, have researched and have attempted to preach on dozens of times, and yet THIS was the first time I really — felt like I understood it

After the foot washing, after breaking bread with his disciples one last time, after the departure of Judas…. Jesus’s words attempt to provide comfort to the confused and lost disciples….for only he knows the entirety of what is to transpire  in the days and weeks to come.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

While Jesus attempts to assuage the disciples’ fears, Thomas and Philip continue to be troubled…their questions reveal an almost palpable sense of anxiety.

Anxiety about being left behind.

Anxiety about loosing their beloved friend once and for all.

And yet Jesus asks them to simply trust him, pointing out what he thinks is obvious, that he and the Father — God are one…..reminding them, as John’s Gospel often does, that from the very beginning….. God changed God’s relationship with humanity once and for all, by having made Jesus incarnate… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  Through this great incarnation….through his birth…life as we know it changed forever.

As preparations continued to take place all around me I realized that this is the Gospel message…in this preparation lies the hope of the resurrection…..that ultimately a place is being prepared for us, that Jesus will take us with him to that final resting place.

Before this moment I THOUGHT the hope lied in knowing Jesus was taking us with him…..but the real hope and beauty of the passage unraveled before my very eyes as all these nurses and doctors gingerly prepared the way to welcome this new fragile life into the NICU.

The promise IS eternal life….but the immense love that God shows to God’s people IS in the preparation….

I imagine that Jesus’ promise to go ahead of the disciples, to prepare a place for them…to prepare a place for us…. looks a lot like the calm yet calculated care that the NICU team takes to prepare a place for a new baby.

Sometimes they would get three or four  even five false alarms…. before it was actually time…. but they responded with the same love and care and painstaking preparation each and every time…. seemingly not out of obligation….but out a deep sense of vocation and pure privilege, because that’s what it takes to be responsible for ushering new life into the world in safety….and that is the ridiculously unfathomable love that Christ attempts to explain to his disciples, before his departure…..

There will be a place for you….I will prepare it….there is room for all.

As I continued to sit there, listening to his little labored breaths up and down, down and up, as he lay on my chest and seeing the doctors work on the little 910 gram girl next to us glowing bright red under the warmth of the heat lamp…..I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder knowing that when my own son was born…..

they must have taken just as good care of him….

that they had likely spent all day and several days eagerly anticipating his arrival, for long before he came screaming into the world there were several false alarms.

 

But knowing that they were prepared to receive him….

provided me with an overwhelming sense of comfort that I had not encountered in this sterile space.  Knowing that they must have cared for him the same way they cared for this little girl.

They knew he was coming here before I did.
They were ready when I was not.
They got to see his face and touch him before I could.

The little girl was quickly overcome by doctors, x-ray machines, respiratory therapists

each person carrying out their specific role

each person completing the tasks they are called to do, with very little need to communicate with one another….they cautiously and quickly go to work on the little girl

– her father looked on wide eyed in wonder and yet full of confusion at his perfect pint sized princess is poked and prodded.

And all I can think…is “do not let your hearts be troubled…believe in God”….

if only he knew how much preparation had gone in to making a place for her….

He would believe.

He would trust.

He would know that no matter what….everything will be ok….

His dashed hope would be restored.

In this place…in this moment –sterile space transformed to sacred space…and as I sat there in prayer…

I realized the perfection of God’s plan and faithful preparations….

Even though I struggle SO HARD with wanting things my way and on my terms.

On this Mother’s Day, like all Mother’s Days — many grieve for what has been or has not been, for mother’s lost and mother’s never known, for empty arms and arms too full, for mom’s that could keep it together and mom’s that fell and fall apart.  And yet others celebrate with joy and gratitude their children known and yet to be fully known…..

The tension of anxiety and hope of love and joy wrap this day up with a very, very tight bow, making it almost impossible to undo.  And yet the confluence of this fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s day and an assigned Gospel text fit for a funeral, that also can call to mind that new life, that life eternal, that shines as a bright light in the midst of darkness is both ironic and ultimately fitting.

For ultimately it is in God’s loving arms that we will all come to rest from our labors.

It is here where she has prepared a space for us….

it is here where she will nurture us….

It is here where we will be brought to new life.