April 28, 2010
Revelation 21:1-6; John 13: 31-35
“Behold,” says the One who sits on the throne, “I make all things new.” God dwells with humanity. Tears, pain and mourning are no more. It sounds wonderful. Sign me up.
“I give you a new commandment,” says Jesus to the Eleven: “love one another...as I have loved you.” What lovely and inspiring words.
Take time, though, to read the fine print: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Loving one another hasn’t been Christianity’s strong suit, however much we talk about it.
There has never been a time in Christian history since Luke wrote Acts where the people were of one heart and mind. Christian divisions have rarely been civil. Many have been deadly. It’s not terribly persuasive to lecture others on the necessity of love when our hands drip fresh blood.
I don’t need to recite the long history of Christian divisions, nor need I outline the ugly divisions within our separated traditions today. You know them as well as I.
We’ve made a horrible mess of God’s household, the oikoumene. I don’t wish to disparage decades of earnest and difficult work, but Christian ecumenism today remains more promise than reality. It’s far easier to cancel anathemas than to reconcile ways of living. Call the latter costly ecumenism, and pray for that.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Father Zossima warns “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Love, like peace, is difficult. Ask someone who has been married more than twenty years. Mutual subordination is not a natural practice. People who claim their marriage has always been happy either lie or feebly conceal an uneasy hegemony.
I don’t know how to love you as Christ loves us. If you do, please clue me in.
In the mean time, what’s to be done with this new commandment? Commandments aren’t issued for default behaviors. You can blame biology or the Fall, but lying, sexual betrayal, killing, and covetousness are quintessentially human. Perhaps I can learn, through a lifetime’s effort, how not to harm my neighbor, but don’t ask me to do the impossible and love him, too.
The more I reflect on this new commandment, the more I apprehend it apocalyptically, a revelation of something already here, yet hidden from human sight. If you ask why I love my wife, I’ll give you dozens of reasons, none of which truly answers your question. In the end, I love by faith and grace; not by sight, knowledge or certainty.
Pray for that faith and grace in all things. Pray that your neighbor will show you how such faith, such grace is lived. Pray for the apocalypse of love.