theunfamiliarname

Homily for Easter 6B

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2009 at 12:40 pm

It’s the subject of a hundred thousand songs.
The impetus for excruciating teenage poems beyond number.
A concept we use casually,
and confuse with all sorts of peripheral feelings and acts.

We say it of ourselves, of others, of cheesecake.

“Love” has to be the most over-used and under-realised word in our vocabulary.

It is a noun, a verb.
It’s an abstract concept, and yet we connect it with very actual realities.
It is a name of God.
And this morning we are told, it is a commandment.
The commandment:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”.

Not a suggestion, a good idea, a tip for better living:
it’s a commandment:  “Love one another”.

And, like most commandments,
we wriggle about to try and find where we can avoid it:  the limits.
Mutual love is envisioned, yes.
It begins where we know there is love,
hopefully in our families, in this place, with our friends,
but to love as Christ has loved – and that’s the command –
means to love and to give yourself away
to and for those who might just hate and hurt you.

To love even to the point of the Cross.
“No one has greater love than this…”

And yet John has the audacity to write to us in his Letter:
“God’s commandments are not burdensome…”
Even if we leave the terrible weight of the cross aside for just one moment:
How can a commandment not feel weighty and ill-fitting?
How can loving one another not be burdensome?
It’s hard work.
God knows some people make it very hard for us to love them.
I don’t always feel like giving – or receiving – love.
“Love” doesn’t always work out.

I’m sure many of us have had moments when Tennyson’s
“better to have loved and lost” rings a little hollow.

“Love” doesn’t always work out?
Says who?  We are an Easter people.
And what we know from the story of the Resurrection
is that love is never wasted.
It is never lost.
It is never defeated.

In the face of death, love is not extinguished.
In loss, love tells us we have held something of worth.
In disappointment and deep pain even, we know that we are alive.

Death, wrote the poet Dylan Thomas, shall have no dominion.
Though lovers be lost, love shall not,
and death shall have no dominion.

Love conquers the most hellish hatred and suffering,
love it was that held our Lord to the Wood of the Cross
more firmly than mere nails could ever do…
because God is love.

Love it is that we discover every Easter season,
or its possibility, that it might take root again in our lives.

Elsewhere in First John we read:
We know that we have passed from death to life
because we love one another.
Whoever does not love abides in death.

In love God proclaims this Eastertide that death and loss and pain
hold no power over those who live in that love.

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed,
“Christianity is not a doctrine to be taught, but a life to be lived.”
Love would have us look differently at the world.
Love breaks down barriers.
“Love one another” is not just the current batch of disciples to themselves.
Not just the love of friends who already know each other.
The command is to love as Christ loves.

In our reading from Acts
we have that remarkable moment in the Church’s life
when it becomes clear that God intends all people, Gentiles and Jews,
to share in Christ’s risen life.
Where only strangers and enemies once were,
love breaks walls down and makes us all Christ’s friends.

The “us” and “them” of the old order is shattered.
As the sense of separation and sin between humanity and God,
symbolised by the curtain in the Temple,
has been torn apart,
so our separations and divisions are recast and are ultimately judged
by whether we have love, one for another.

And not just in the confines of our “church” life,
not just – to use that rather cryptic language John uses of Jesus –
by water only, but “by water and blood”.
Not only in sign and symbol and sanctification,
but also in cost and in life, in sacrifice,
in love and all its messy human implications.

If “love” is a word we too often use without thinking through,
these last two Sundays have given us a word we seldom use at all.

Abide.
“Abide in my love,” Jesus says three times to the disciples,
so that must be something to notice.

The Greek meno means literally “to settle, to set up house”.
Last week it was used of us as branches on the one true vine.

This week we’re taken just a little beyond that memorable image,
lest there be any confusion
that this was somehow a passive, static vocation.

Jesus still uses the language of abiding,
but makes it clear that we abide in something alive and outreaching,
“go and bear fruit that will last” says the Lord,
abide in the love that dares to give itself away,
to lay down its own life.
Jesus speaks to us about remaining in and being sustained by his love,
love that is now not just his, but ours.

We are called friends.

To be God’s servant
was depicted as an honour in the language of the Old Testament
and rightly so.
But we are invited to be friends.

What does friendship mean?
Choosing to love and to enmesh ourselves
in the costly reward of really knowing and enjoying another,
gaining insight and joy in and of ourselves.
Brought into contact and relationship
with others who once were strangers.
Being co-workers with Christ, bound by love rather than duty.

James K. Baxter wrote:
Lord, Holy Spirit,
In the love of friends you are building a new house,
Heaven is with us when you are with us.

The house of love
we are invited to settle in, to abide in this day.
Not alone, or with people whom we choose,
but with all those Our Lord calls friends.

“I have said these things to you
so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete”.

Amen. Alleluia.

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