Sixth Sunday of Easter
When we are young we learn a list of “dos” and “do nots.” Do not cross the street without looking both ways. Do show respect for your elders. Do not misbehave. Do treat people the way you would like to be treated. Lend a helping hand in cleaning up the dishes after a meal. The list is seemingly endless. Some grade-school children learn the list well and follow all the rules. And some of these might even become a little self-righteous with the way they follow the rules in the midst of many others who do not. There is a comfort that can come from following the rules, doing what is expected, keeping the list. But there also comes a time when we grow out of childhood, internalize the purpose of the rules, and live as adults.
Even the Old Testament had a list, which today we refer to as the Ten Commandments. Honor your father and mother. Do not covet another’s belongings. Here again, learning the list and following it is rather easy and straightforward. It is literally a checklist, as to how to be good and honorable in God’s sight. And too often we encounter, or have become ourselves, those who are a bit smug, in the way they keep the rules and follow the list, much like proud grade-school children who find comfort and validation in mere obedience.
But Jesus gives us a command in today’s gospel that supersedes all others. It is simply this: “love one another.” Of course, with a command, an invitation like this, it can be seductive to return to a checklist! How much easier would it be to maintain a checklist, such as, going to church, celebrating the sacraments, fasting on Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday. But the command issued by Jesus is much more difficult. A command to love knows no bounds, knows no checklist. It can be much easier to simply attend church once a week and other higher feast days in the church liturgical year, than it can to “love.” By this command, Jesus invites us to an adult spirituality, no longer satisfied by keeping a list. We are not children who need to be told to help with cleaning up after dinner. We do this naturally out of love. And we likely do much more.
There is no box to check for “love.” Love does not count the cost or put a limit on what price is too high. Love can always do more. Love is based on a personal relationship with another that is not transactional but self-giving. As Jesus says in the gospel, his love for his friends reaches the point of laying down his own life for them. There is no boundary to what love calls us to do. And for that reason, we might prefer a list of dos and do nots. But that is not what we receive from Jesus. We receive from Christ a command simple but demanding, inviting: “love one another.”
The Christian life, modeled by Jesus, is about a freedom to love to the point of laying down one’s life for the other. A relationship with Jesus necessarily involves a relationship with Jesus’ friends. And these friends are called to love not only Jesus and God but, perhaps more importantly, one another. How much simpler the spiritual life would be, if we only had to focus on loving Jesus, or loving God. But to be a friend of Jesus means we must love Christ’s other friends as well. This kind of love is not simply a checklist of good deeds, but a dying to self that puts others first. This love is self-sacrificial and demand, invites that we put our own wants, needs, and desires aside to serve and love the other. But, some might respond, “others have so many needs there is no way we can meet them all.” We could die trying, “Precisely.” is the answer we might expect. The Christian life is one that invites a kind of heroism of daily self-sacrifice, daily dying to one’s self. This is the paschal mystery given to us by Jesus. For when we give ourselves to the point of no return, God is there to raise us up to new life.
Continuing last Sunday’s theme of the vine and branches, Jesus speaks of the love of God that is to be the bonding agent of the new Israel. The model of love for the faithful disciple – “to love one another as I have loved you” – is extreme, limitless, and unconditional. The love manifested in the gospel and the Resurrection of Christ, creates an entirely new relationship between God and humanity. Again Christ, the example of sevanthood, the Redeemer, is the great ‘connector’ between God and us.
In Christ, we are not “slaves” of a distant, divine Creator, but “friends,” yes friends of a loving God who hears the prayers and cries made to God in Jesus’ name. As “friends of God,” we are called to reflect that love to the rest of the world.
Loving one another as Christ loved us, begins by putting aside our own hopes and wants and seeking instead the hopes and wants of others, caring for and about others with selflessness and understanding, regardless of the sacrifice; always ready to make the first move to forgive and to heal. That kind of love can be so overwhelmingly demanding that we may shy away from the prospect. But most of us have known some time when we have been able to love like that or when someone has loved us like that. It is an incredible joy. We experience a profound sense of purpose and wholeness in giving and receiving that kind of love – the depth and love Christ has had for us all.
Christ transforms creation’s relationship with its Creator. God is not the distant, aloof, removed architect of the universe. God is not the cruel taskmaster. God is not the unfeeling judge, who seeks the destruction of the wicked. God is creative, reconciling, energizing love. And Jesus is the perfect expression of that love. All that God has done in the first creation of Genesis and the re-creation of Easter has been done out of limitless, unfathomable love. Such love moves from demand and invites us not to fear God, but to accept God’s love offering of “friendship;” not to self-loathing for our unworthiness, but to grateful joy at what God has done for us. Amen.