We are approaching the 6th Sunday since Easter, and the circumstances of my life have seemingly all but erased the memory of the resurrection. I need a reminder of the Good News. At first glance, I’m not sure I get that from today’s text. It feels so…transactional:
“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love” (v. 10)
“You are my friends if you do what I command”(v. 14)
“This is my command: Love each other” (v. 17)
I don’t like commands and I don’t like the word “if” in those verses. Ever since my childhood, there has been something in me that has wanted to go left if someone suggested that I go right.
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” While it’s a command (as opposed to a nice suggestion), on this side of Easter we are not in bondage to respond in perfunctory love out of obligation. We are, rather, completely free to choose love out of the reality of having been, first and foremost, so well loved.
Gifted with the agency to “abide in this love,” we now find ourselves with growing opportunity to love one another out of the deep well of our own belovedness. God, who willingly embraces powerlessness and vulnerability, grants us the opportunity to love one another in the same manner in which he has first loved us. Is this, in actuality, command or invitation?
The problem is that so much of morality is taught in a transactional manner; it doesn’t spring forth from the well of belovedness. When that happens, we are left with a transactional religion that does nothing but siphon the juice out of life. The truth is that we don’t repent so that we can be forgiven; rather, we are forgiven so that we can repent. That’s why the best liturgies begin with forgiveness and then move to confession and not the other way around.
The key to the matter at hand is found embedded in verse 12: “Love each other as I have loved you.” Therein lies the pattern “around which” and the power “upon which” we are able to love family, friend and foe.
I once heard Brennan Manning tell the story of a crying monk. An exhausted pastor went to a monastery for a week hoping to find solace and renewal. Walking the grounds one afternoon he saw a monk sobbing under a tree. Intrigued, he approached the monk and noticed that the tears seemed to come from a place of joy. Filled with holy desire, he asked the monk how he also might develop such a profound love for God. “These tears are not shed out of a man’s love for God,” responded the monk, “Rather, these tears I shed because I am awestruck with God’s love for me. You see my friend, my Father is very, very fond of me.”
The act of reveling in one’s “fondedness,” produces unbridled freedom. It ignites a fuse that leads to the explosion of divine joy (v.11). Therein lies my needed reminder of the Resurrection on this 6th week since the celebration of Easter.
Jesus makes it clear that he chooses me, calls me friend, gifts me with agency to abide/remain in God’s love and deposits within me the unspeakable joy that he shares with his Father. In the waters of such “fondedness,” how can I not embrace the joyful invitation to swim in directed and responsive love towards ALL those around me?
I have recently learned about an old Easter custom begun by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity that is slowly resurfacing. It is referred to as “Holy Humor Sunday,” and typically observed on the Sunday after Easter. It’s a day filled with laughter and joy. The theologian, Jurgan Moltman, captures the idea of “risus paschalis” beautifully in describing life after Easter as “the laughing of the redeemed, the dancing of the liberated.”
Filled with the joy of the “Easter Laugh,” let us embrace the invitation to go and bear fruit through the loving of family, friend and foe out of the overabundance of having been so well loved. May the cheers of a Friend who is very, very fond of you precede and follow you on the journey ahead.
“Love each other, as I have loved you.”
Joel Van Dyke Director | Urban Training Collaborative