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St Paul wrote a letter to Christian believers in the imperial city of Rome nearly 2,000 years ago. It is an enduring work, whose theology and instruction has remained at the heart of the Church’s teaching in all the centuries past.  

In chapter 12 of this letter he opened up a subject which is sometimes summarised under the title ‘the marks of the true Christian’. It is majestic writing and begins with the heartfelt directive, ‘let love be genuine’. It is the exhortation a few verses later, however, that caught my eye when I re-read the chapter a few weeks ago.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”        [Romans 12:15]

It strikes me that this simple adage is both more profound and far harder to fulfil than we might imagine. The repetition in the sentence sounds a bit trite, but disguises the fact that what it asks of us is very challenging. Yet it further strikes me that to do these things is a calling that goes to the heart of our human existence, and is certainly not just an invitation to those who would consider themselves to be religious. Anyone who can do these things, is bringing something very special to those who find themselves accompanied in this way.

Rejoicing with others in their happiness, and sitting with them in their sorrow, each belong with what it is to be a friend, and a respectful presence. Each involves taking on with committed engagement the moods and emotions of those around us. But this is not easy.

There are many aspects to this: empathy, attentiveness, conversation, or quietness, as the situation demands; ease with someone else setting the tone; and a lack of embarrassment with sharing so personally in matters of the heart.   

For some of us, these abilities remain to be learned. Others, in contrast, impress with both their ability and their willingness to walk these shadow steps. And some of us will find that we can readily do one, but not so easily the other, maybe, we are wired for celebration or consolation ... but not both.

It really matters, and it is an expression of ‘genuine love’ that we should stick alongside one another in their times of extremity. It will be generous, and it will be appreciated, if we can share their successes, good fortune and exhilaration; it will be caring and steadfast if we can show solidarity, and not avoidance, when they know sadness.

In my role as a parish priest, I find myself present to some of life’s great moments, both of happiness and desolation. Like others of you, I hope to respond with grace, compassion, and to the best of my abilities. And that is the nub of it: it is one thing to be around when good or bad things happen for our neighbour; it is another, still, to stick around and allow ourselves to float in the same waters on which they are being carried. Currents that offer thrill and fulfilment, and whirlpools that suck the strength from limbs and threaten to submerge us.

St John’s Gospel recalls movingly how Jesus wept with the family of Lazarus, at the news of his friend’s death; and also how he celebrated in a wedding-feast, at Cana, the joy of a precious marriage.

I am delighted that there are lovely people in our community doing these things with a goodness which is truly life-giving. Every one of us, however, can be more imaginative in how we might inhabit these ways of living, and take on board St Paul’s words as a calling that is ours and that of every person who would be a friend and neighbour.

… “Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing”.          [Exodus 15:20]

 

Revd Andrew Doye
Rector of Westbourne


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