Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together
in perfect harmony.
In Oscar Wilde’s story, the Happy Prince of the title, is a gilded bejewelled statue set on a column overlooking a town, who develops a friendship with a migrating swallow.
‘Who are you?’ he said. ‘I am the Happy Prince.’ ‘Why are you weeping then? asked the Swallow; ‘you have quite drenched me.’ ‘When I was alive and had a human heart,’ answered the statue, ‘I did not know what tears were… everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if indeed pleasure be happiness. So I lived and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.’ ‘What! Is he not solid gold?’ said the Swallow to himself. He was too polite to make any personal remarks out loud.
And so the story unfolds. The statue of the Prince persuades the Swallow to take the jewels that adorn him, one by one, to particular people in desperate situations around the city. The ruby from his sword hilt to the mother of a feverish boy, the sapphires of his eyes and finally leaf after leaf of the gold covering to the poor and the sick and the hungry. The dramatic tension in the tale is added to by the Swallow lingering in the cold North at the onset of winter instead of flying south to the warmth of Egypt. In the end there is nothing left for the Prince to give and the Swallow who has helped him in his acts of benefaction, dies from the cold. It is a poignant and touching tale. Self-sacrifice born out of compassion and pity and love’s response to love. The more the Prince is moved by the plight of his people the more compassionate he is, the more he gives of himself, until he has given all. Likewise the Swallow, as he becomes more and more engaged in the situation he finds himself in, the more obvious it becomes that he cannot quit, even if it means his own death.
The start of the list from the letter to the Colossians (chapter 3, verses 12-17), ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience’ is not all that remarkable but the implications, when we really think about them, are. These qualities are not qualified, not limited and may involve a cost.
Today, being Mothering Sunday, is a day to remember and celebrate the compassionate gifts of those who nurture and support, who prefer the needs of others before their own, especially the needs of the dependent and vulnerable. We celebrate mothers present, absent and departed and it is a celebration of motherly qualities. Not all those who have and show these qualities of compassion, kindness and patience are mothers and, sadly, not all mothers are motherly, so today we also pray for individuals and families whose relationships are fractured, whose lives are blighted by indifference, coldness, selfishness or any of the other painful attributes of wounded personalities that diminish rather than enhance the lives of those around them.
The joy and pain of love is present in the little scene described in today’s Gospel (Luke 2.33-35). Simeon with great presence of mind sees who it is who has been brought to the Temple, the very one promised of old, Messiah. And the implications of what that might mean slowly dawns on him, ‘destined for the falling and the rising of many’ he says to Mary. He also sees what it all will cost her.
The winter and spring months in the Church’s calendar focus on the coming of Jesus the Messiah; his birth, the revelation to the world of God with us, then as the story progresses we hear more and more of his mission and ministry of healing and mercy and abundant grace and now, half-way through Lent, we sense the rising tension, the harder times, the conflicts with authority, the frustrations and disappointments. Through it all, his Mother stands by him.
Scripture describes Jesus as being the visible image of the invisible God. We have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In him we see the qualities of God’s love in clearest definition.
We are encouraged to imitate these qualities and replicate them in our own lives, especially in these times of anxiety and uncertainty. ‘Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.’ Compassion, which is drawn from the deep well of God’s love, flows freely and is a powerful force for good in the world, it is a word of Christ, a word with costly implications as the Happy Prince and the swallow found, that, when written on human hearts influences our deeds and thoughts and is a word that ‘dwells in us richly’.
Let this be the word we hear today and in the coming week: ‘Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… And be thankful.