In the 1970s a series of cartoons by Kim called ‘Love is…’ were very popular in the UK. You might remember them. They depicted a male and female figure with the caption ‘Love is…’ followed by a phrase such as ‘being able to say you’re sorry’ or ‘caring for each other’ or even ‘laughing at the same old joke!’.
At the heart of the Christian faith is Love. According to St Thomas Aquinas, Love is… willing the good of the other. [(STh I-II, q.26 a.4, CCC 1766) Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut Philosophus dicit in II Rhetoric, amare est velle alicui bonum] To love, then, is not simply an act of passion or emotion, something which we feel, but it is also something which we choose to do. The commands to love God and our neighbour, found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, are central to the Christian Faith, as taught and exemplified by Jesus. To choose someone else’s good reminds us that we do not exist for our own sake, and that our lives are lived in community, in relationship with others. We are called to be loving and generous, just as God has been loving and generous towards us in Christ. God loves us, and wants us to thrive and as Christians, we seek to cooperate with God in promoting human flourishing.
Jesus spells this out clearly in this morning’s Gospel:
‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13:34-35)
We are to love each other in the same way that Jesus has loved us and we are to lay down our lives, as Christ has for us. In this love and service we can truly love each other. This makes who and what we are manifest to the world around us. It makes Christianity something attractive because people can see the difference it makes. We are people of love and a community of love, willing good, and helping to make goodness a reality. This is a radical and world-changing idea,. It is underpinned by selfless love, which Christ commands of us, His Church, to help transform the world through His Grace so that humanity might come to enjoy life in all its fullness.
What God asks of us is both simple and complicated, at the same time. Despite our best intentions, we are not able to live up to the perfection that the Gospel seems to require. The temptation is to see anything that is less than perfect as failure, whereas the more we try to live lives of love together, the more loving we become. There will be mishaps along the way, but occasional stumbles do not alter our direction of travel. Is it difficult or costly? Yes. But when we act together, we are able to support each other, encourage each other, and pray for each other.
Jesus gives His disciples the ‘new commandment’ just after He has washed their feet and celebrated the Eucharist with them. Christ talks about glory, in relation to His Passion and Death. In human terms being falsely accused, scourged, and then crucified does not look like glorification, quite the opposite. Jesus is about to die the death of a slave, and yet God understands this as glory. This is because the Cross demonstrates God’s love for humanity. There is no end to which God will not go for love of us, even dying a shameful death. Our heavenly Father will stop at nothing to reconcile us to Himself and to each other, to heal our wounds, and offer us eternal life.
This is why, when he has a vision of the end times in the Book of Revelation, St John can write the following:
‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”’ (Rev 22:3-4)
Heaven is somewhere where God and humanity are reconciled and united. As a sign of this all wounds are healed and pain and suffering are no more. In Heaven we are able to experience life in all its fulness. We have a foretaste of this in our worship today, since our earthly worship is united with the worship of Heaven. During today’s Eucharist we listen to the Bible, the Word of God, so that we may be encouraged by what we hear, and helped to love God and each other. We are also fed by Jesus,, with His Body and Blood, as a pledge of future glory, and as spiritual nourishment here and now. What we enjoy in the Eucharist helps to transform us into the likeness of Christ, and points forward to that unity which we will enjoy forever in Heaven.
This is what following Christ means in practice: living out our lives like Jesus, so that people can see that we are His disciples. By acting out of love, we proclaim the reality and the truth of our faith in Jesus. This is something that we do together, and it is why we need to stay close to Christ in Word and Sacrament, to pray together, and to support and forgive each other. The life we are called to live is not a saccharin-sweet cartoon, but real, sacrificial love, the sort which has the power to transform the world: making it more Christ-like. We thirst for this love, and only it can satisfy our deepest desires. So let us come, and drink of that Living Water. Let us feast on Him who is the Living Bread and the True Vine. Christ is the Shepherd of our souls, who loves us so much that He died and rose again for us. Let us love Him, and one another, so that all 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. Amen.