For the past several weeks of Easter in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, readings from the First Letter of John have emphasized that the greatest way the world will come to know Christ will be by how we Christians act. Our actions, especially as those who “wear” the name of Christ, will be the only testimony much of the world will have as to who Jesus is. That concept ought to strike us dead in our tracks. What, exactly, DO our actions tell the outside world about who Jesus is, and how Jesus forms and shapes our lives? In particular, how do we reflect our understanding of Jesus – not as a prophet and healer who lived and died in the first century of the common era – but as the living, risen, Savior we proclaim throughout Easter, and beyond? “We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia!’ in our song,” proclaimed St. Augustine.
Since “no one has ever seen God,” but “God is love,” the only way for people to actually see God is to see the visible acts of love we Christians offer not just for each other, but for those people beyond our narrow circles. As we know, our circles seems to keep constricting and getting smaller and smaller in the last several decades here in the West. One wonders how much Christian infighting has had to do with that, or, even, worse, since it is more visible, what role Christian condemnation of those we perceive to be outside the circle of salvation has played in the alienation of so many from belief in God? If God is love, and we are not loving those who do not know God, how are we so surprised when the number of people who confess belief in God is not also contracting, rather than growing? We live in a world in which “love” is often traded for infatuation or passion—flames that burn brightly, generally but do not last.
It’s easy to love people when you think they are just like you. It’s hard to love people when you think they are different than you, or worse, more sinful than you. But the logic of John’s argument here becomes even more forceful in exactly that situation.
Jesus didn’t come to hang out with the powerful. He spent his earthly life among the poor and the outcast for many reasons, all of which can be translated into one word: love. Jesus showed great love, compassion, and mercy on those who were marginalized and even criminalized. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to imitate our teacher and Savior. Jesus embodied love in action. We are therefore called and charged with the holiest of charges, to do exactly the same. God’s love and grace alone makes us worthy—nothing we can do can earn forgiveness. BUT our own love makes us worthy witnesses—and where we are lacking, we must acknowledge what we have left undone, and commit to action.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the last years of World War II, composed this prayer, asking God for the gift of holy love:
O God of love, we pray thee to give us love:
Love in our thinking, love in our speaking,
Love in our doing, and love in the hidden places of our souls;
Love of our neighbors near and far;
Love of our friends, old and new;
Love of those with whom we find it hard to bear,
And love of those who find it hard to bear with us;
Love of those with whom we work,
And love of those with whom we take our ease;
Love in joy, love in sorrow;
Love in life and love in death;
That so at length we may be worthy to dwell with thee,
Who art eternal love.
We understand who we are by loving beyond ourselves, by loving each other and thereby loving God. Love is the ultimate act of bravery and faith, because it requires so much of us. It is time for us to understand that sharing in the love of God is sharing in God’s very being. The full expression of love is how we participate in the life of God. Real love will abide, because real love is will in action and willing to endure throughout joy as well as hardship.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.