Those who had followed Jesus, witnessed his death and resurrection, and had seen him bid farewell as he ascended to heaven, were perplexed about what would come next, as certainly something would. On the 50th day after Easter, something did. The assembled company was overwhelmed by God’s presence with such power that they went into the public square to proclaim to all that Jesus was more than simply the long awaited messiah, he was the very Word of God made flesh. You might call it the birthday of the Christian Church. It’s the event we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday. A dramatic start to be sure, but then what?
“Love one another as I have loved you.” It was Jesus’ new commandment for those who followed him. He’d already made it clear that the most important commandments were to love God and love one’s neighbors. No other commandments were more important, and everything else in scripture had to be understood in the light of these two. But here was a brand new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” How had Jesus loved others?
It’s not an easy question. Many churches, including tiny Grace Episcopal Church in Dayton, WA, now enter a long six month season of Ordinary Time, in which we examine Jesus’ life and teaching to learn more about how he showed love, fully intending to do better at following his example in our own lives. Our study this year will focus on the gospel record of Luke. We’re on three year cycle, so next year it will be Matthew, then Mark, and finally back to Luke again, working in John as we go along.
You would think that after 2,000 years of this, we’d have it down pat by now, but we don’t. It’s brand new in each person’s life, and progress in loving others as Christ loves us comes slowly, with many missteps along the way. In our society, where the strong emotions of romantic love, and the fuzzy warmth of sympathetic love, have become the standards by which love is understood, the way of loving as Jesus does is hard to understand. Moreover, we’re too quick to accuse others of hating rather than loving, for no better reason than they don’t agree with our politics, don’t look like our kind, have a different religion, or any of a dozen other reasons for making human hate rather than godly love the focus of our attention.
Speaking only for myself, I think I know a few things after a lifetime of working on what it means to love as Christ loves. It’s not so much about emotions or feelings, and more about doing and showing. It’s about respecting the dignity of every person as beloved of God. It’s about breaking down barriers that prevent the other from being a neighbor. It’s about restoring to wholeness what has been broken in our individual lives, and in the societies where we live. It’s also about being in communion with God through prayer as conversation with God, conversation in which we do as much listening as talking. It’s about being more bold in proclaiming God’s love to those who need to hear it. It’s also about resting, taking ourselves out of the hubbub of daily life for our own needed physical and emotional restoration.
Our culture is steeped in mythical ideals of rugged individualism and self reliance that don’t always mix well with loving others as Jesus loves us. It’s especially true for we who live in the rural West. That’s too bad for a couple of reasons. Most important, when God has spoken, pay attention, there isn’t any higher authority. And then bending to the task of living into the way of godly love empowers one to become most fully, courageously, authentically who they are called to be –– not who they pretend to be, who they’re ashamed they are, what they should have been.
Our little congregation will spend the next six months of Ordinary Time working on it. Then it’ll be time to prepare for Christmas.