May 2, 2010


As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. – John 13: 34

Love, as our Lord speaks of it, goes beyond mere desires. It has to be more than something we want badly. Ultimately, it is learned. Think for a moment: the cubs of predatory animals do not automatically know how to hunt. They must learn it from their parents.

Even so, we humans learn how to love (or not to love) from our parents, & that mostly by example more than words. It is difficult for us to value ourselves unless someone values us first, & we can only feel cherished by God when we feel valued & cherished by others. This helps to explain why peer pressure is such a driving force. We are desperate to be “with it,” & “to fit in” because we’re so unsure of ourselves.

Most homes are peppered with photographs of family & people close to us. Even when we are alone, we can still focus on the captured past presence of significant others. They are reminders that we have been & are loved.

My mother once took a packaged around the world tour for retired people. There was a couple in the group who stood out because the wife incessantly talked to her husband who rarely spoke a word. It so happened that he died suddenly in New Delhi , India . The group had to leave her behind to arrange his cremation, but she caught up to them in Bangkok , Thailand . She placed the urn with his ashes in the very seat he had occupied on the plane & proceeded to talk incessantly to the urn for the rest of the trip. He wasn’t going to get off the hook so easily by dying.

This true story, while sad in a way, illustrates the importance of keepsakes to us. We need reminders that we have been loved. That is why the cross plays such an important role in Christian households. But this is a different kind of remembering. It reminds us that we need to try, as in the movie Pay It Forward, to love others as we have been loved by our Lord. It is not a mere remembering, but an incentive to live the reality. When we fail, we go to confession & begin again.

John’s Gospel is very much concerned with bridging time. It does not focus on the Second Coming as much as it does on how to maintain the presence of Jesus on earth after He has returned to the Father. Christian tradition has followed this lead by emphasizing Word & Sacrament.

But most fundamentally, Christ continues through his new body, the church, the people who are imbued with His Spirit & remember His love as the ground & energy of their own love. This is why it is important to belong to the present community of disciples who remember & enact His love. We need both the scriptural text & the community to remember the love of Jesus & to love one another as He has loved us.

But the community is wider than the church: it is all the people in our pictures. They keep God’s love from being real but thin. This is where the photos & family & friends stand side by side with the cross. AMEN!