God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable ; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.
Fulton Sheen Rejoice 1984:9
In this morning’s Gospel we begin to see a change in the character of our celebration of Easter, as it begins to look forward to our celebration of the Lord’s Ascension, when He will return to the glory of Heaven and the bosom of the Father, when he will no longer be visibly present among us as he was before, but is also not absent. Before he goes, he gives his disciples teaching which is clear and simple: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures contain 613 commandments, starting with ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ in Genesis, including the Decalogue, the command to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, to love our neighbour as ourselves. He has come not to abolish the law but to fulfil it, and love is the fulfilment of the law. As Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment he also enacts it Himself, He shows his love for humanity in dying for us, by bearing the burden of our sins, by going to death upon a Cross for love of us: this is what real love means and looks like in action. In this Christ establishes a pattern for Christians to live their lives by, as Christians, those who bear the name of Christ, we are to live like this too.
This is what following Christ means in practice: living and dying like Christ, together, so that by this all will know that we are his disciples, through love lived out in our lives we proclaim the reality and the truth of our faith. It’s something which we do together, and while it sounds easy in theory it is a bit harder in practice, and it is why we need to stay close to Christ in Word and Sacrament, to pray together, to support and forgive each other, so that we can live a life of love, not saccharin-sweet as the world sees it, but real, sacrificial love, the sort which has the power to transform the world so that it becomes more Christ-like.
These are not idealist pipe-dreams but the reason why we are Christians, we want to see a world transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, into a place of peace, and joy, and love. Christ gives us this commandment so that we may have life and have it to the full, in and through Him, the source of all life and love. So as we continue to celebrate Christ’s triumph over sin and the world, over death itself, let us be filled with His life and joy, and share His love so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever.