Sunday, May 17, 2020

6 Easter: Clothed in the love of God

Lectionary: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an mp3 format.

The icon featured here was commissioned for me for my ordination by my first parish, St. Paul's in St. Joseph, MI. It was written by Anne Davidson, Iconographer in the Diocese of Western Michigan.

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

Our gospel today is the next section of Jesus’ farewell discourse, and like last week, we are reading from his teaching given at the Last Supper in order to reflect on it from the perspective of his resurrection.

This part of Jesus’ teaching begins with “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (Note: I inadvertently cut out the second part of this quote, the last sentence in this pericope. I didn't realize it until I was preaching it, at which point it was too late and I didn't know the quote well enough to fake it. The next sentence, however, makes more sense when it's included, so here it is: "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me: and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”)

Is Jesus telling us that his love of us is conditional on our obedience?

At first glance, it might seem like that, but I don’t think he is. Our reflection on this part of John’s gospel requires a little vocabulary study from the original Greek to help us understand the meaning of this text.

In the first place, the word we translate as “if” isn’t a conditional in the original Greek. It’s a word that implies a future possibility which experience determines. And the word “keep” refers to preserving, maintaining, or continuing something. It isn’t talking about obeying at all. That’s a whole different word in Greek.

So we might restate what Jesus’ like this: When you love me, you will discover that you will maintain and continue what I have commanded, that is, enjoined you to do. Then the question becomes, what did Jesus urge us to do? The answer is: to love.

Love one another as I have loved you. (Jn 13:34) Love your enemies. (Mt 5: 44) Love.

Once, when he was asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus held up two: to love God with all our hearts, minds, strength, and souls (Deut 6:5), and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:18) . On these two, he said, hang all the guidance and inspired teaching.

Granted, keeping those two commandments isn’t easy to do, especially in the midst of the kind of grief of loss the disciples would experience when he was gone from them, a loss he said would happen “in a little while.” So he promised them another comforter, translated here as Advocate, both words being accurate even in their distinction.

We can sense when people near us are beginning to panic. We can see it in their faces and body language, and feel the energy of it building like static electricity around us. Perceiving this among his disciples Jesus speaks directly to it saying, I will not leave you comfortless or alone with no one to love you, take care of you, protect you, and celebrate you. I am coming to you - to comfort you and support you forever.

As with our gospel reading last week, we are invited to contemplate this teaching of Jesus with spiritual understanding. One day, Jesus says, we’ll get it! We’ll know that God is in Jesus, who is in us, and we are in him, and through him, we are in God.

Get it?

I remember when I was in my seminary Greek class and we were all feeling so overwhelmed by how vastly different Greek was, from the alphabet to the layers of meanings, and the many conjugations and tenses. Our professor assured us that one day, we’d just get it, and he snapped his fingers.

Oh sure, we thought. Easy for him to say! But he was right. One day, it suddenly all fell into place and the learning began to happen at lightning speed like a vortex was opened.

Jesus was promising the same thing… “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. When that happens, you will have my commandments within you and you will be able to preserve and continue them.

You will know love, divine love. You will know that you are loved by God, and by me, and I will be revealed to you in ways you couldn’t have understood before, and it will change everything! The knowledge Jesus is talking about here is spiritual understanding.

Our beloved Dame Julian of Norwich speaks of this so eloquently. Here are her words:

“I desired in many ways to know what was our Lord's meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same.”

This is the love in which “we live and move and have our being” as Paul quoted from the poets of his time… the love who “holds our souls in life and will not allow our feet to slip” as the psalmist says. It all boils down to love: divine, eternal, sacrificial, joyful, mutual love.

This doesn’t change the fact that we will know suffering, doubt, and darkness throughout the course of our lives. In addition, we may get it, as Jesus said we would, then lose it again, and get it again, over and over in the course of our lives.

Knowing this love with spiritual understanding means that we will never be alone in any of the “changes and chances of this life.” (BCP, 133) We will never be comfortless. We will always be, as Dame Julian says, clothed in the love of God, which “wraps and holds us… enfolds us for love and will never let us go.”

We also have each other. Prayer not only “fastens us to God” as Julian says, it also fastens us to one another, connecting the love of God in you to the love of God in me, as it were. Those connections are real and through them God can change the world, working in and through us.

In these days of pandemic when our usual connection to God and one another in our weekly experience of the Holy Eucharist is unavailable to us, we can rely on the power of prayer to keep us connected to God and one another in love. Prayer is unhindered by time and space, and as our psalmist says, our prayers are attended to by God.

I pray we continue to pray together, more and more as the Spirit guides our community to do, for our sake, but also for the sake of those, nearby and far off, who connect with our circle of love virtually. What a gift we have received: the will and motivation to pray online. I am so grateful for those here at Calvary who are committed to being fastened to God and one another through our online prayer life.

Since Julian of Norwich has been so present in this reflection on the Word, let’s close with the prayer assigned to her feast day, which was just last week: May 8.

Let us pray: Lord God, who in your compassion granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

No comments: