Jn 15:9-17; 1Jn 4:7-10
As I observed last year, when we say goodbye to someone, especially if we're not going to see them for a while, we usually try and say something important, something that we want the other person will remember while we’re separated from them. Such words can be particularly important when someone is dying.
The words in today's gospel are such farewell words, the words Christ spoke at the Last Supper before he died.
Those words included a farewell request of Jesus, with an added strength, because it is directly connected WITH the death he was about to suffer, the REASON he was saying goodbye. He said,
“Love one another, as I have loved you.
A man can have no greater love, than to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends, if you do what I command you.”
Almost every religion in the world has a command to love, to treat our neighbour well. But ONLY Christianity has it rooted in the example of God himself, in dying out of love for us. It is a high standard of love, indeed, there can be no higher one. It’s not just rooted in a piece of ancient wisdom about the best way to get on in life, or seek harmony. It’s not just rooted in a law dictated by a remote godhead.
The command of love we follow is a direct PERSONAL request, from a God who has revealed and given us such love himself, who gave it to us long before we gave any love back to him. It’s a command of love, from a God who IS love itself. Scripture calls God many things, truth, strength, light. But it gives him no name as clear as the one we just heard from St. John’s first letter: “God is love”(1 Jn 4:8).
One of the reasons we keep someone’s dying request is as a memory of the person, as a way of continuing to make them present. Keeping Christ request for us love makes him present by his very nature. God is love, and love is the basis of our sharing in the life of God. As St.John says, “Love comes from God, and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God”(1 Jn 4:7). And this follows from Christ’s promise that, “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love”(Jn 15:10).
Love SHOULD come naturally to us. We’re made in the image and likeness of God, and he is love. Humans are made as communal and relational beings -to exist in love with others. But it often doesn’t come naturally to us. We are selfish, we quarrel, we are greedy, we complain and moan and gossip about people.
We fail to love because we sin, and at root because of Original Sin. That’s why, when he gave us this command, Christ also gave us the promise of the strength of his Holy Spirit at the same Supper.
But it’s also why he gave us the SIGN of himself on the Cross to motivate us to love. When we look at Christ on the Cross, we see his love for us. And this must surely awaken a response in us, a response to love as he loved us.
The command to love as he loved is a demanding standard. But it comes with a high reward. The reward not only of having God dwell in us in this life, making his home in us in this life, but ultimately of him taking us home to himself, to the place he went when he died and rose again.