The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Easter 6B 2021, May 9, 2021
Throughout Eastertide we have been searching out the meaning of the Resurrection and the Risen Christ; following him as it were all the way back to the Last Supper where we find ourselves this morning, as we did last Sunday and will next week. Though we hear only small portions of it, Jesus’s farewell address to his disciples in the gospel of John is far-reaching in scope and some four chapters long, during which Jesus pours himself into the hearts of his disciples.
He reveals to them many things: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the True Vine. I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. Abide in my love. My own peace I give to you, a peace the world cannot give. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Remain in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Last week Fr. John spoke about four unique forms of love as found in scripture; from the Greek: storge or familial love; philia or brotherly/sisterly love; eros, or romantic love; and agape, the rarest form of unconditional love, of which Jesus speaks when he bids us to love one another as he loves us.
And yet our modern/western way of thinking about love is more generic—love is love—its significance tending to fall into two rather neatly divided if not polarized categories. 1: that love is the capital A answer and all we need. Or 2: as lovely as that idea is, it’s simplistic given the complexities of the world and its problems, not the least of which is evil. Love alone is not enough: we need to do more.
Jesus didn’t fall into either camp, not really. Indeed, he repeatedly urges and encourages us to love and remain in his love, and to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. In studying our gospel passage this week, I found myself coming to a halt, even stumbling at his proviso “fruit that will last.”.\ Because though we might bear fruit—even a whole tree full of good works—what of it is lasting? For we live in a creation of “passing things” where everything changes and nothing remains the same, so starkly evidenced during this last year and counting of global pandemic. We who are the world are ever passing away from one state of being to another.
Biblical scripture also attests to this passing nature of the creation: The writer of 1 John (2:17), tells us that the world and its desires are passing away; in 2 Corinthians (5:17) St. Paul writes that everything old is passing away. In Mark (13:31) Matthew (24:35) and Luke (21:33) Jesus himself says: Truly I tell you, heaven and earth will pass away. In the book of Revelation (21: 4), a prophecy and vision is foretold of all first things passing away.
But the writer in 1 John goes on to say: yet, those who do the will of God live forever. And in Corinthians, St. Paul goes on, that if anyone is in Christ, he/she/it/they are a new creation. Jesus assures us that his words will never pass away. And in Revelation, after all first things have passed away, God will wipe every tear from every eye. Death will be no more. There will be a new heaven and new earth.
What doesn’t pass away is God, who is love. If we are to bear fruit that lasts, then we are to bear God, and bear love. To bear means to carry and communicate, bring forth and give birth to; nurture, sustain and endure, passing through all that is yet passing away. Like the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, we too are theotokos or God-bearers, love-bearers.
As I read in a commentary this week, our religion isn’t something to be tacked on to an otherwise secular life, which in most respects is the same as everyone else’s. The Christian faith is indeed a vision of how a human life should be lived in fullness. So long ago, St Irenaeus of the 2nd century put it this way: The glory of God is a person fully alive. And a person is only fully alive when full of love. Because such a person then reflects most clearly the God who is love (paraphrased from SacredSpace.ie a ministry of the Irish Jesuits).
The gospel of Resurrection reveals not that love is the answer or that it is not enough; but that in being true love is alive and knows no separation; as Jesus tells us: I and the Father are One (John 10:30). I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you (John 14:20).
This love is the most powerful of all powers because it alone can penetrate the impenetrable stronghold of the human heart, and vanquish death. This love of God does not possess or dominate or subordinate, but is unreserved, spacious, and embracing of the other. This love is not subject to the limits or scarcities of time and thus bears fruit that will last.
But this love is also the most powerless of all powers because it can only be received by consent; true love is never coerced. Jesus was not forced to the cross, as he tells us: I have the power to lay down my life and I have the power to take it up again (John 10:18). Jesus “commands” us to love yet he cannot will us or force us to do so. For this our freedom, God’s Holy Spirit of Truth is sent to lead and guide us with comfort and strength through all that we undergo in the name of love—teaching us everything—as we are able to bear it (John 16:12-13).
And yet, perhaps understandably, we are fearful of being vulnerable to this great promise of revelatory and sweeping truth and prefer “manageability”; generally speaking, we prefer folks who are akin to us, and choose those to love based on our own affinities and preferences. But at the heart of the Easter message is a love that ripples out far beyond our own self-prescribed circles: through the resurrection of Jesus, God’s love prevails for all nations, all peoples, and all the ends of the earth.
To love as Jesus loves is to welcome others, all sorts: there is always room at the inn and in the heart and mind of Christ for those who believe differently, as we heard in our first reading from Acts: The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles—even on—(insert the name of a person you don’t like. let alone love or deem worthy).
No matter how hard I try, mea culpa: I do not love everyone as Jesus loves me. I fall short, and sometimes flat out fail. But Jesus is far more than an example or exemplary role model to try and live up to. Jesus doesn’t say “emulate my love” but abide in my love—rest, return, and renew in it as your source and sustenance. I am the vine and you are the branches; for what is impossible for you is possible with God (Luke 18:27).
As it was for the disciples at the Last Supper, this good news can be difficult to discern in our relationships and world; for the presence of agape love doesn’t mean absence of humanity and its bodily and moral struggles. The presence of true love empowers us to bear and be with one another, in all of life’s complexity, predicament, and consequence. This love empowers us to live in the glory and mystery of the resurrection now.
Jesus calls us “friends” because he has chosen to share with us all that the Father has told him, and to show us the Holy One as revealed through himself. This friendship is not the utilitarian networking kind, nor is it to be cultivated primarily for our diversion. This friendship is for the sake of love; and this love is for the sake of real and lasting transformation. This love seeks to heal and unite so that we truly befriend the other and bless this world.
I once heard it echo in the deep well of the night: The only fear is that of Death, which is to say of Love; for both transform the self to God.
This is Christ’s joy, which is our own, ever to abide and begin again in this love—behold, the new is come—this is the Resurrection Life that Jesus calls his disciples to live.