The Reverend Kathleen Killian
One Love; One Life
On this 5th Sunday of Easter, our gospel reading has us looking all the way back to the Last Supper, where we find ourselves supping with a pre-risen Jesus and listening to his farewell address in advance of the cross. But then, our reading from Revelation has us look far far ahead to a new heaven and new earth—a new creation where death will be no more—and Christ proclaims as he did on the cross: it is finished; the reconciling work of God is done.
Circling back around, we come to the very first season of Easter in our reading from Acts, Peter and the disciples having already set out to spread the good news of the risen Christ; that God has given to all, even the Gentiles, the repentance that leads to life. In our psalm, life itself–sun, moon, and stars; mountains and hills; wild beasts and winged birds; sea-monsters and all deeps; peoples and princes, young and old—all creation is caught up in praising the Lord for God’s great glory and grace.
Each of our lessons this morning present us with a vision of life, and the possibility and promise of its renewal. These holy words call us to open our ears, eyes, and hearts to the eternal discovery and eternal growth that is God, who spans and transcends the arc of time.
In our passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is given a vision of a different way of eating that leads to new life. Let us remember that for Peter, as a Jew, the observance of circumcision and dietary laws was not a simple practice of ritual piety but a matter of core identity. These sacred laws determined who was included in God’s covenant with Abraham and who was excluded, what food was clean and permissible to eat, and what was not. And so the circumcised believers criticized Peter, saying: why did you go uncircumcised men and eat with them? Peter begins to explain: I was in the city of Joppa praying when I saw a vision of all manner of food which I was told to eat. Three times I protested to the Lord, and three times I heard a voice from heaven: What God has made clean, you must not call profane.
Vision meets vision as Peter is called by the Spirit to go to Caesarea with a group of unbelievers:The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. Peter delivers the good news of the Easter message, the Holy Spirit falling upon an entire household and saving them, as it had upon Peter and the disciples. Peter finishes telling the story by saying: If then God gave them same gift that he gave us, who was I that I could hinder God?
The religious leaders who had summoned Peter don’t respond with an argument as to why Peter was wrong and his vision false. They didn’t censor or rebuke him, or throw him out on his ear. Rather, for a moment, they all fell silent in the face of what God was doing in their midst, which was offering, even to the Gentiles, the repentance that leads to life and the gift of new life.
Sometimes the only worthy response to God is silence, coupled with awe and praise; yet how quickly we stray from the sacred into the profanity of brash opinion and harsh judgement, which, as Peter reminds us, hinders God’s life-giving work.
Can we, will we, trust ourselves to the Spirit of truth and to the revelation of the Father’s heart? Do we reflect the Easter message, that through the resurrection of Jesus, God’s love prevails for all nations, all peoples, and all the ends of the earth.
In our passage from Revelation, St. John has a vision of such a transformed reality and abiding fellowship with God: See, the home of God is among mortals. See, I am making all things new! Death shall be no more. This is God’s promise for the future, and in this present time; as Jesus says in the Beatitudes, blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). We grieve, and we grow in the power of the Resurrection, and in the One who gives new life: to the thirsty I will give water as a gift, without price, from the spring of the water of life.
In our gospel from John, Jesus gives his disciples a vision of what is to come—new life and a new future—but without him. And so he gives them something to hold onto—a commandment that is a guideline, a practical measure, and a spiritual treasure. After washing the disciples feet at the Last Supper, after Judas has gone out into the night to betray Jesus, he says to them: Little children . . . 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.
Jesus’ disciples would have already known the command “to love one another” from Deuteronomy (6:5, 7:9) and Leviticus (19:18). What was new about the commandment was not its content but its context; that of God’s love as manifest in Jesus’ life, death, his rising and ascension; that love is the disciples identifying mark; that in the fulfillment of the law, love determines who and what is clean and belongs.
In this short passage, Jesus says not once but three times to love others as he loves us. If we are to do so, surely we must first ask: how does Jesus love us? I think this quote from Fredrick Buechner might help us to understand: the first stage of love is to believe there is only one kind. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love, and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe there is only one kind of love.
And there it is: Jesus didn’t and doesn’t love different people with different kinds of love. He loves his disciples, the outcasts and unclean, friends and enemies with the one same continual out-reaching in-pulling embracing kind of love. He took all of humanity’s failures, forgotten, and discarded to the cross right along with all of our pride, greed, and contempt.
How does Jesus love us? With abandon, in humility and service, without judgement or preference, with perceptiveness and patience. Though he commands to do the same, he cannot will us to love; for, though, love is the most powerful of all powers, because it alone can conquer the impenetrable stronghold of the human heart; it is the most powerless because it can do so only by consent (Frederick Buechner).
To love as Jesus loves is to say yes, and to choose to love, over and over again, as did the disciples, his mother Mary, and Jesus himself. As Christians, as Easter people, as followers of the way, the truth, and the life, we are called to behold the common ground of all humanity and creation, which is that of love; our very recognition draws the love that redeems more fully into this world. The presence of God’s love doesn’t mean the absence of struggle or suffering, discord or doubt; rather, love empowers us to bear and be with one another in all of life’s multiplicity, predicament and consequence, mystery and glory.
Jesus’s command to love others as he loved us is indeed a tall order; yet it is not about perfection or our being perfect, as Evelyn Underhill writes: no life, no intelligence reaches perfection; yet in each there is promise of the Perfect. Each comes up to its limit, and in so doing testifies to that which lies beyond it—[to the vision]—of the unlimited splendor of the Abiding, the glory of the living God.
God is alive, love ever working to redeem all—now, in the past, and in the yet to come—See, I am making all things new!
So let us say yes; let us choose to love; let us receive the sprit of repentance that leads to life; let us walk the way of love to new and eternal life.