5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 14.21-27; Rev 21.1-5; John 13.31-35
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Love, love, love, love…blahblahblahblahblah…I’m sick of love. Sick of reading about it. Sick of hearing about it. Sick of preaching about it. Seems like every time we turn around in the Easter season we’re listening to John prattle on about how Jesus commanded us to love one another or how Jesus says that loving our enemies is good for us or how he is love or God is love or the Holy Spirit is the Father loving the Son and vice-versa. Now, we hear that all those pagans out there will know that we are Christians by our love…by our love, they will know that we are Christians by our love! Sorry. Makes me a bit queasy though—kinda syrupy-sweet and honey-sticky. Almost cute. Is this what we’re about? Cute love? Jesus suffered the whip and died on a cross so that we are free to shoot sugary looks at one another and drip cutesy clichés about warm-fuzzies and teddy-bear hugs? Do I need to go put on the creamy-pink vestments and my Bunny rabbit slippers? No. Thank God and all the Saints…no. Love is not cute, cuddly, creamy, sticky-sweet, pink, huggie, warm, or fluffy. Love is not careful, balanced, gentle, meek, or meager. And love is most certainly not neutral, tolerant, ambiguous, confused, or permissive. Love is none of these. So, what is love?
The One who sits on the Throne says, “Look! I make all things new.” The old order has passed away. No more death. No more grief. No more pain. No more crying. What has always been is no more. What is/is going. What is coming is new, fresh, brightly clean, and pure. And this will not be accomplished by a tamed passion or a affected infatuation. Love is the divine juice of renewal; the power of perfecting gift; the living breath of re-creating wisdom; the Spirit that cuts away dead flesh and shocks a weaken heart; love is God’s passion, God’s might, His transformative command: God speaks His Word to nothing and everything IS…and it IS only in Love. What’s pink, fuzzy, sweet, or gentle about that?! Let’s see Hallmark put this on Valentine’s Day card: “How do I love you? Let me count the ways: first, I gave birth to reality using Nothing as my source; second, I took dirt and gave you a body and a soul and then watched you betray me; third, I destroyed the face of the earth and all but a few of you b/c of your wickedness; fourth, I sent my only son to be whipped bloody and spiked to a cross to pay for your sins…this is how I love you! XOXOXO—God the Father.” Now, this is not the Marvin Gaye/Barry Manilow, Chianti and roses mood we were looking for, uh? No, no it’s not.
Paul and Barnabas are running on love. They’ve received the Spirit of wisdom and truth, and they are running on love! Here’s what they are doing: making hundreds of new disciples all over Asia Minor; strengthening the veteran disciples in their trust of the Lord; helping them all to understand that hardships are an essential part of being Christ for others; they’re appointing elders, priests to leadership everywhere they go, teaching them how to fast and pray; they are proclaiming the Word, healing the sick, casting out demons; and, they are opening the doors of faith to the Gentiles, extending God’s invitation to them to jump into a revolution—to overthrow sin, to conquer death, and to enjoy the gift of life everlasting. Paul and Barnabas are finely honed, well-oiled, surgical grade instruments of God’s rejuvenating love! They are laying the foundation for the New Jerusalem that John sees in his revelation; they are dressing the Bride, perfuming her wrists, and adorning her with the finest jewels. And, guess what, brothers and sisters? We are that Bride! We are the raw materials for the New Jerusalem! And if we aren’t running on love, then what are we running on?
Maybe one reason we get sick of hearing about love during Easter is that preachers, especially Catholic preachers, tend to think of love in purely secular terms—Hallmark, Oprah, sappy romance novels. This means that they go on and on about love as a kind of permissive passion for ignoring sin and approving dissent. Love becomes the means and the excuse for disobedience and error. How often have we heard that God loves us unconditionally and, therefore, no one is capable of making a deliberative judgment about another’s public sin? This move excuses all of our favorite sins and gives us the false impression that love is God’s way of dealing with sin by emoting it away, or pretending it isn’t there, or by wishing it away on the grounds that we all fall short of His glory. We also hear love presented as the last reduction, the final seed of the gospel, the Thing Beyond Which There Is No Appeal, and therefore, if anything appears to violate love—a bishop’s order of excommunication, an infallible church teaching, a papal document—well, we can ignore the offending limit in favor of love. Love conquers all, after all. Right? Yes, it does, but we must remember what Love is and what it isn’t.
Love is always true. Never a lie. Love is always the glory of God. Never the glorification of man. Love always carries us to goodness. Never to evil. Love always binds us in obedience. Love never frees us to be disobedient. Love always heals, always cleans, sometimes hurts, sometimes casts out. Love never winks at sin, shrugs at injustice, or ignores the poor. Love always looks to Christ, his church, and his Mother. Love never uses the bottom-line, the convenient, the practical, or the efficient to destroy God’s creatures, especially His unborn children. Love always encourages spiritual growth from faithful experience. Love never gives hope to novelty for novelty’s sake nor does love trust innovation for the sake of excitement. Love can be a terrible whirlwind, a stone-shattering blow, a heart-ripping loss. But love always builds up in perfection, grows in wisdom and kindness; love attracts questions about eternal things, discourages attachment to impermanent things; and, when necessary, love will kick your butt, take your name, and call your mama!
If you are sick of hearing about love during the Easter season, you don’t know what love is. If you are complaining about hippy-dippy priests who whine all the time about love from the pulpit, you don’t know what love is. If you think love is best expressed with chocolates or a Starbuck’s gift card or perhaps you think real love is best signified with a quickie in your dorm room, then you don’t know what love is. Love makes you. Love saves you. Love delivers you to the throne of the Most High! You are not loved b/c you deserve it. You are not saved b/c you’ve earned it. You were not created b/c God needs you. Your being, my being—we exist, gratuitously, without merit or debt b/c our God, in His Goodness, draws us out of nothingness and makes us body and soul. We exist in Love because of Love for Love so that we may return to Love to be Love forever. And this is sometimes a terrible pilgrimage—painful, disillusioning, exhausting and dirty. But, at the end, you will be the newest creature b/c you are now a new creature.
Love perfects the imperfect. It shines up, buffs off, and sharpens. If you will become a well-oiled, surgical tool for God’s Word, you will love. You will speak the truth, spread goodness, honor beauty; you will correct error, confront sin, forgive offenses; and you will build up the Body in service and open the doors of faith to the stranger. Your life in Christ is a gospel epic not a Hallmark poem. Love us as Christ loves us…right to the cross, to the tomb, and on to the Father’s right hand.