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Thought for the week - 5 May 2024

I wonder if you can love badly? Certainly you can love in a way that another person does not understand, or care for, certainly you can love someone who does not want to love you back, and of course it’s easy to think of ‘love’ as an amorous advance and all the complex minefield around that rather than the love that God has for us and the love that we are expected to show to each other if we take His name as Christians. Love then, is not something we can be measured on (unless we choose to give none at all, or to disguise our machinations as love, which is probably worse. But we are used to hearing about love, and used to hearing this Gospel today - an excerpt from what St John tells us that Jesus said to his disciples just before he went out into the night to be arrested and crucified. We are so used to hearing it that it is easy for us to switch off, because we all think that we know it already. We think we know all about love, even when there are people who we do not love. So maybe we should hear it! Indeed if any passages in the Bible should trouble us, surely they are this passage and the reading that we heard just before it, from the first of St John’s letters.

After all, in one form or another for nearly two thousand years, Christians have been telling each other and anybody else who would listen to them that it’s love that makes the world go round. And that we have a monopoly on divine love, that we know best how to love. But how much better is the world as a result of this? And how full of love are our churches? The first letter of St John tells us:


Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love.

And in this Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus is saying:

This is my commandment: Love one another, as I have loved you.


Yet we are so accustomed to seeing not failures of love, but manipulations and deliberate distortions of love, which is the very opposite of love, even in Christians – in fact maybe it’s even more starkly clear in us - that we do not even bother to listen when we hear these words again. We just think ‘well, at least I’m not the parish gossip/bully/self server/whatever.


‘Loving somebody’ means ‘caring for somebody’ (so ‘a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends’), and ‘loving God’ means doing what God wants us to do. In other words, it means making the world around us aware of God’s presence, God’s power within us. And this is not quite such a difficult thing to do as it sounds and when we do it well, we create an attractional church that is comfortable and inviting, aware of its wounds, not pretending to be anything else, and one that we would want to join. And one that other people will want to join as well, because it’s completely authentic.


When we read in today’s gospel that the Father ‘loves’ the Son, what this means is that he lives for the Son – that everything he is is for the Son and He is in the Son. And when we read that the Son ‘loves’ the people whom he has called to be his friends – and that includes you and me! – it means that he lives for us and is in us. And when he tells us to love each other as he loves us, that means that we are being called to live for each other. To be in a community with each other based and rooted in love. For love is only real, it only lasts, if it produces more love.


So the commandment to us to love is a command to share in his work – his campaign to bring all human beings back into oneness and love with God. And this is a love stronger than death. When we say ‘Yes’ in our hearts to Christ’s call to help spread God’s love around, we are not being expected to do this relying on our own strength but by the power of God, the same power that raised Christ from the grave. And by the power of the greater thing that we become when we allow Him to dwell in us and remake our community.


In fact, if ever we say ‘Yes’ to God, we are never really alone. For, as Jesus said to his disciples at his Ascension


You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.


This power of being a living witness makes us people of joy, of truth and of love. We are witnesses to love! And we bear witness by doing that which we are witness to. It’s easy, and joyful, and it should be fun!

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