The night before Jesus was to be tortured and executed by the religious and imperial authorities, he gathered one last time with his disciples, to break bread and to bless his beloved brothers and sisters who would soon become the first members of the Church. Jesus spoke not only to those gathered that evening, but also directly to us, the countless women and men who would follow him in the years and centuries to come. Jesus called us his friends, because he has revealed to us everything that he has learned from the Father. We are his friends, he told us, if we do what he commands: Love one another. As Jesus prepared to suffer and die on the cross, he summed up his teaching like this: Show love to each other, just as I have shown the Father's love to you.(1)
Our most basic mission as those who follow Jesus is to love each other, imitating the love of God that Christ reveals to us. The love we are called to show is not our own, human love; rather, it is the reflected love of Jesus that lives in us and through us. It is the love described by Paul: It is patient and kind; it bears all things, believing in others and hoping for the redemption of all.(2) Jesus' love lays down its life for others, seeking wholeness and reconciliation with enemies, and suffering for truth.
The Church is a key proving ground for this holy love that is being born within us. The community of those who are following Jesus should be a place where we are especially encouraged to try out the risky, radical love of our Lord. Love like this is scary. Jesus suffered and died for love; and in him God became vulnerable to us. It is this vulnerability, exposing our most tender selves to others, that is most frightening of all.
We are called to imitate the risky love of Christ. We can only live into the New Covenant if we open ourselves to God and to our fellow women and men. God has already come so close to us, dwelling among us and bearing our burdens - but to participate in relationship with God, we must move beyond our self-centered sense of security. To live into the covenant of intimacy that is possible in Christ Jesus, we must lower the gates of our hearts. This life of mutual love and surrender cannot just be a pretty idea, a theory. If we are to truly experience the covenant, we must embody Christ's love in our relationships with others.
The way we treat others reflects our inward spiritual condition: If we lead lives of false self-sufficiency and human wisdom, we not only elevate ourselves above our neighbors, we distance ourselves from our Creator. If, however, we are gentle and humble of heart, our relationship with God and one another will be transformed.
Embracing the Challenge
Being together as the Church helps us to live into the challenge of living and loving like Jesus. The community of faith is a place where we can support each other in the practice of yielded intimacy with God and our fellow creatures. In true Christian community, we are empowered to take risks in love, generosity and vulnerability. We come together in Jesus' name, learning from him and growing more like him. We support one another in sharing with the world the love that God has shown us.
We can demonstrate love in a many ways. There are a variety of gifts within the Church, and so our expressions of love are bound to be diverse. One important way we show our love is through simple acts of kindness and generosity: Greeting others when they visit; providing hospitality to strangers; and taking the time to talk with those who are alone. Our love grows deeper as we move beyond simply giving charity out of our own abundance and begin to share dangerously in faith that our Heavenly Father will provide for our needs as we trust in him.
This is a big step, and few of us take it on a regular basis: Stepping out in faith that God will provide, releasing our need to control future outcomes. So much of our life is dominated by the quest to accumulate more for the future, just in case. How much greater could our love be, how much deeper our dependence on God, if we truly obeyed the Lord's command to trust in God for our daily needs? What peace would we experience if we placed our attention on the day at hand, leaving tomorrow's troubles for tomorrow? The love and power of God is most clearly demonstrated when we offer all that we have, even if it means that we might not have enough for ourselves.
The wealth of the western Church in the face of widespread global poverty is an indictment of our lack of faith. We have refused to trust in God, instead relying on our own human wisdom - our economic theories, five-year plans and retirement packages. What would happen if we threw ourselves into the arms of Jesus and risked everything for love?
Money, however, is not everything. Love is also about how we spend our time and attention. As we experience God's infinite and intimate love for us, we must allow that love to shine through in our interactions with others. We are all invited to share of ourselves - our time, our resources, our energy, our very lives.
Let us imitate Jesus, who set aside his infinite power and wisdom and became a suffering servant.(3) By humbling ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable to others and carrying their burdens willingly, we imitate our Lord and open the door to our own relationship with God. For it is in receiving the love of God into our own lives that we are empowered to share it with the whole world.
1. See John 15
2. See 1 Corinthians 13
3. See Isaiah 52:13-53:12