This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:12-13, NKJV).
During Holy Week I had the privilege of conducting a number of Easter services in different residential aged care facilities. I spoke about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. I used a single word to describe this – LOVE – and asked a series of questions to help my residents to connect e.g. Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem as a baby? Because of LOVE. Why did Jesus heal the sick? Because of LOVE? Eventually as I asked my questions, some of the people began to respond with the single word LOVE.
To make this idea more solid, I used a stone with the word LOVE etched into it. You can see the stone in this photo, alongside some knitted figures (Jesus in the manger; a man who I called Jesus; the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem).
Whenever I asked my question, I held up the stone. My listeners could therefore both see and hear the word LOVE.
When I said that Jesus died on the cross, I held up the stone in one hand, and the carved wooden statue of Jesus’ face with its crown of thorns. This is at the left of the cross and praying hands.
I asked: Why did Jesus die on the cross for us? Because of LOVE. I then walked around the room, standing in front of each resident. If necessary, I called them by name to gain their attention.
One by one, my residents looked at the face of Jesus and at the word LOVE. Some reached out and touched Jesus’ face or the cold stone. Another put their finger on one of the thorns. A lady, and a man, kissed Jesus. One lady said “Sad”. A man said “Jesus”. Yet another exclaimed “LOVE”. When I reached one dear lady a smile came onto her face, and she instantly burst into song: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so …”. Many of the people in the room joined in!
During this whole encounter no-one got up, or spoke out, or broke the silence. To have this happen in a room full of frail aged residents and residents living with dementia, is a miracle in itself. Silence and stillness are very rare.
But there was a greater miracle. The miracle of God’s Spirit at work in the lives of those with broken bodies and brains! Their spirits, which are whole and well and strong, clearly connected with my story in word and object. My spirit spoke with their spirits, all aided by God’s Holy Spirit, and I saw and heard them come alive: through touch, kiss, word and song.
Jesus was in our midst, and we experienced anew His great LOVE: LOVE supremely expressed in the Easter story: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”.
We are God’s friends – and nothing, not even dementia, can take that way.