CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Need a Hug?
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
- John 15:9-17
Wow! Read the Bible from cover to cover and you won't find this much love packed into so few lines anywhere else. In eight verses, love is invoked nine times. If the New Testament is a love letter from God, then this passage is a great big hug from Jesus.
Love is the essence of Jesus. As the gospel tells us, he gets it from the Father, and he passes it on to us in overflowing abundance. It is ours for the taking and the sharing. We are links in a reciprocal chain of love, bound to each other and to the Father through the saving grace of the Redeemer.
But don't let all this love stuff confuse you. There is nothing mushy or sentimental about the love of Christ. It is literally a matter of life and death. Jesus gave his life for us. He wants us to reciprocate—not as a transactional exchange, but as an affirmation of our inseparable union with the will of the Father, the love of the Son and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The life we give to Jesus is our timid, self-centered, mortal one. The life he gives back to us is a joyful, blessed, immortal one. Not a bad deal. If only we were bright enough to take it and to keep it. But we are so easily diverted. Sometimes our devotion becomes distracted. We are fickle and lack focus. Yet Jesus loves us as we are. He is the constant when we are confused. He cuts right through the silly trivia we have made our life's priorities. Our feelings come and go. God’s love for us endures—in the face of all our foolishness.
Fortunately, we are made in God's image. God is not made in ours. C.S. Lewis makes the point: “He is not proud. He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to him and come to him because there is ‘nothing better’ to be had.” Christ's love may be our last resort, and it is always our best resort.
Fully aware of our failings, Jesus pays each of us the ultimate compliment. Our God calls us “friends.” God invites imitation of that love. God dissects and explains that love, its origins, its purposes, its ends and our unique place in his plan. And as the old spiritual says: "What a friend we have in Jesus."
We are strongly charged to pass on and share the love of Christ. Love your neighbor is not a suggestion. And, as Bishop Curry tells us, “Love God with everything you got. Love your neighbor in the same way. Love yourself." In Romans 13:8, St. Paul tells us, "He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." As such, love is our positive response to all the "shall not's" that Moses took down from Mt. Sinai. Love is God’s grace in action. It fills our hearts and leaves no void for sin to seep in.
Through immersion in prayer, by setting out each day to make our life a prayer, by sharing each joy with God, by sharing each setback, each routine, each surprise, we grow in love for God and love from God. And as we grow in God’s love, God empowers us to grow in love for others.
For all its brevity and lyric beauty, in the starkest terms, this gospel contains Christianity's essential challenge: “That you love one another as I have loved you.”
Particularly in these days of the pandemic, and when days merge into weeks and months, Jesus is there to guide and comfort us. Talk to him. Listen to him. Imitate him. The further we get into prayer and scripture, the further we get into imitation of Christ, the more we'll feel his arms around us in a hug that tells us: You are loved. You are protected. You are mine. Everything will be okay.
The Rev. Canon David F. Sellery is the canon for congregational mission in the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus