A couple of vignettes to start with:
About six months ago a package arrived for me at home.
It was a photograph I had never seen before, a group shot of my father, my uncle and their cousin sitting at a banquette in a night club in New York, with pictures of Benny Goodman and other musicians on the wall behind them.
It was April of 1944; my father was just barely 18 years old and was home from basic training before he was sent to join his unit.
My uncle was 15 and their cousin was 17; the younger boys wore jacket and tie, and Dad was in uniform, his medical corps insignia on his lapel, a very serious look on his face.
I think it’s the only picture of my father where he wasn’t smiling; the photo conveys a real sense of the weightiness of going off to war – a war where everything you loved and held dear in the world was on the line.
Love of country, love of family, love for friends who had already gone off to serve and had lost their lives - all captured in that moment.
+ + + + +
Somewhere today a couple is getting married – probably many couples are getting married, and lots more got married yesterday and Friday night.
All the services will be different from one another – Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, a civil ceremony; weddings with many bridesmaids and ushers, weddings with just the couple and two witnesses; a reception with a sit-down dinner for 250, or cake and a champagne toast in the backyard; all very different from each other.
But all weddings have one thing in common – they are about love and commitment, about taking the next step with another person, about building a life together in the face of all the challenges and joys that life brings you.
They are about love that begins where romance leaves off, love that sees beyond the here-and-now, love that expands into a widening circle of family and friends.
+ + + + +
In the movie “Stepmom” Susan Sarandon plays a woman who is dying of breast cancer.
Her six year-old son Ben is fascinated with wanting to be a magician.
For Christmas, just weeks before her death, she makes Ben a magician’s cape, with photos of the two of them stitched into it.
He is delighted with the gift, but then he comes right out and asks his mother if she is dying.
As she tries to answer his questions she kisses Ben’s hand and places it on his heart and says, “Right there, that’s where I’ll always be, inside.”
And Ben reaches out for his mother, to hug her, saying, “No one loves you like I do;” his mother replies “No one ever will.”
The love of parent and child – the most basic kind of love there is.
+ + + + +
All of these different kinds of love are things we know, we experience, we recognize.
And then we hear Jesus in this morning’s Gospel talking about loving him and keeping his commandments – love Jesus how? in what way? and what are the commandments that Jesus is expecting us to keep?
It is helpful to know a little bit about the context of Jesus’ words.
We are reading in the Gospel according to, as written down by, John; and throughout John’s version he is always trying to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, always trying to show how the majesty and the magnificence and the divinity of God are present in human life through Jesus.
Basically John’s message is: if you have seen and known Jesus, you see and know God.
And the particular setting of this passage is during the Last Supper – the meal Jesus had with his closest friends and disciples before being arrested and crucified.
They have gathered for a meal, Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet just the way a servant would, he acknowledges Judas’ plot to betray him, and then he tells the disciples:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus then spends the next four chapters trying to prepare the disciples for his death: love one another, don’t worry, the Holy Spirit will come and be your comforter, strengthener, advocate, guide and encourager.
So the commandment that Jesus wants us to keep is, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
This is not a flimsy, haphazard, conditional kind of love.
God’s love for us comes with no strings attached; it is a gift, it is strong, it’s abundant, it sees clearly.
As St. Paul says: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This is the love that Jesus wants his disciples to have for one another; this is the kind of love that Jesus wants us and all his followers to have for one another.
This kind of love is hard; it takes work – not that we earn God’s love (or anyone else’s, for that matter), but that in our human limitations and short-comings we are not always as full of God as we could be.
And so to love with God’s love we need to keep focusing our attention on Jesus, to learn from him, to see how he does it, to love with the strength of Jesus’ love for the friends and enemies he was willing to die for.
And Jesus promises the disciples and us that we won’t be alone, we won’t be orphaned, comfortless, without guidance.
esus says he will send the Holy Spirit to be with us, to live within us – much like the mother in “Stepmom” tells her son that she will be inside his heart always.
It is the Holy Spirit who will teach us how to love as Jesus loves.
In two weeks we will celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, one of the great festivals of the Church year.
But the Holy Spirit doesn’t just make an appearance once and then go back in the box until next year; the Spirit is present in our lives, even when we aren’t particularly aware of him.
Many of you know that the window next to the altar is a descending dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
That image is there week in, week out; not visible until you get up close to the altar, but always there, nonetheless; and at certain times of the year, the light will come through that window just the right way and clearly project the dove’s image onto the wall behind the altar.
That’s the way it is with the Holy Spirit: always there, but not visible unless you are close enough and paying attention, until suddenly the Spirit will show up in unexpected and surprising ways.
But the hallmark of the Holy Spirit is to teach us to love as Jesus loves; to give us strength and courage to love as Jesus loves; to draw us into intimacy with God so that we may be infused with Jesus’ love - the love that underlies all sorts and conditions of human love, and in which they find their fulfillment.
This is what we Christians are to be known for, this is what we have to offer to the world: the love of God which touches, saves, heals, restores, encourages, redeems and dwells with all whom God has made.
God’s love brings joy and new life; it sends us out with ample abundance so that we may share it with others, and then gathers us back in again so that we may be renewed.
Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with you forever….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.” Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogation Sunday
May 29, 2011