Sixth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 10. 44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5. 1-6; John 15. 9-17 (view all)
Love! It’s a word used so often in our world today that in some ways it has lost its meaning. I love my wife, Amy, and often tell her, and I love my daughter, Evie, but I’ve also been known to wax lyrical about my love of music, of football, or even a good burger!
In our gospel reading, Jesus repeats that famous command made to his disciples in John’s account of the Last Supper: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ What does it mean to truly love one another? How can we keep Jesus’ command, especially when it comes to those we struggle to get on with?
As well as living in a culture where love can mean many different things, we also live in a culture that often communicates that love is incidental. I wonder whether you have ever heard the phrase, often quoted: ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with..’? There is an unwritten understanding that in life there are some people we naturally, effortlessly get on with, and others we just don’t.
However, this way of thinking is completely contrary to the message in today’s readings; for John, and Jesus, love is not incidental – it’s intentional. This is why Jesus can issue his disciples with a command to love. Otherwise, if love was something out of our control, then there would be no point commanding us to do it.
For Jesus, love was and is an intentional choice. He chooses to love no matter what, and that love finds its ultimate expression in the events of Easter. At the cross, we experience love even to the point of death. And in the resurrection, we discover that love is so strong that even the grace could not contain it.
‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…’
This what Jesus tells his disciples, predicting what was soon going to happen. He isn’t commanding them to do something he himself was unable, or unwilling, to do. He is asking them to love one another with the same love that he himself has already demonstrated to them, and will demonstrate for them at the cross. The New Testament scholar, Tom Wright, puts it like this:
The command to love is given by one who has himself done everything that love can do.Tom Wright, John for Everyone, p. 74
This love is a ‘laying down’ for the sake of others, giving ourselves for the sake of others, in response to Jesus, the greatest giver of all, and the greatest lover of all. It is this kind of sacrificial love which breaks down the barriers between people and cultures. We see this in our Acts reading, where Peter discovers that through the love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is breaking down the wall between Jew and Gentile, and working to unite all people as children of God, and friends of Jesus.
As John writes in his epistle, this revolutionary, sacrificial love isn’t just an add-on to our faith, is isn’t an extra requirement that God is placing on us in addition to everything else. Instead, love is the very path to abundant life itself, the path to victory over all the rubbish that our uncaring world could throw at us:
For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.
I wonder, this morning: Will we lay down our own preferences and sense of status in order to love others, whether we naturally get on with them or not? Will we lay down the 101 things on our own ‘to do’ lists, in order to invest time in the problems and concerns of others?
How can we grow an intentionally loving community here at All Saints and across our Ministry Area, in which we lay down our lives for one another?
As a Church, and as a Ministry Area, over the coming years we have all kinds of challenges to face together, but my deepest prayer is that we might grow to be the kind of community, the kind of family, where those around us take note of the love and care we show for one another. That we might be like the early Christians, of whom the Church Father, Tertullian, said the Romans exclaimed: ‘See how these Christians love one another!’
Jesus chose love, even to the point of giving his life for us. In response, may we lay down our lives, our agendas, our status, our time, for him and for one another.
God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us
he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.