Sixth Sunday of Easter
John 15:9-17 Acts 10:44-end
Whenever I visit somebody in their home, I enjoy seeing family photos on display. Even when there are few, they offer a glimpse into their life story, and are a sign of love. When my father was in a home because of his Alzheimer’s, we stuck photos up on the wall in his room, and went through them during visits, to help him keep that connection with his loved ones. We were fortunate that his love was very generously bestowed on us, his family, but I do appreciate that it’s not the same for everyone. Love, though, is an essential ingredient of life; we all need it to thrive, whether we’re young or old. For those who received little, it will be more difficult to give much, but here also the principle applies, that whoever gives much, will receive much in return, if not from the same person, then in other ways. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15, about his commandment to love one another, etc., is often taken out of context and applied rather crudely in manipulative rhetoric: wartime being a case in point. His words, ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’, have been used at the human level, to order soldiers to go off to the front line and die for their country. God honours the self-sacrifice of those who firmly believe that they are doing their duty, but he also judges those who use it to put moral pressure on other people. Besides, Jesus didn’t talk about political duty; rather, he spoke of the love of God for his people and that he himself, as God’s Son, would lay down his life for them, in an act that showed the highest degree of love and that would never be repeated.
That is why Jesus can indeed issue the command that we ‘love one another’, and so remain in his love, because he has acted out the greatest thing that love can do. But his actions are not coercive or manipulative. Rather, he has come to give us joy and freedom, to make us more human, not less. He doesn’t ask us to become super- or even semi-human, but to bear fruit in accordance with God’s mission and purpose for us, so that, at the end, both the lover and the beloved become more human; more like God intended us to be. ‘You didn’t choose me, I chose you’, says Jesus in verse 16. And once we grasp the truth of God’s love and intentions for us, we find that loving one another is not a heavy yoke to bear, but, in humility and loyalty, the means to build life-giving relationships that honour God.
Now, I would not suggest that we could ever do that perfectly in our own strength. Jesus doesn’t say that. What he does say, is that the disciples (and we) are his friends; that he has made known to them everything that he has heard from his Father, and has appointed them to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give them whatever they ask him in Jesus’ name. And Jesus is giving them these commands so that they may love one another, as brothers and sisters. I am reminded here also of another kind of love: of courtship and marriage. Some may say that that’s a bit old-fashioned. I think it’s as beautiful as it’s biblical: an image of the Lover calling the Beloved, who is to be his bride. Love points to God, reflects God, honours God. The love shared among Christians tells the story of God’s love for the world. When it is given freely, it is a testimony of a personal relationship of love and loyalty to the One who has loved us more than we can ever begin to imagine. It may be difficult to love one another; it may also be the first step towards a fuller humanity and freedom. Love one another. Amen.