1 John 5:1-6
Easter 6, May 9, 2021
St. Martin North Vancouver
“Loving Parent, Loving Child”
Long before the night was born from darkness
Long before the dawn rolled unsteady from fire
Long before She wrapped her scarlet arm around the hills
there was a love, this ancient love was born.
Long before the name of a God was spoken
Long before a cross was nailed from a tree
Long before She laid her arm of colors ‘cross the sky
there was a love, this ancient love was born.
Wakeful our night and slumbers our morning
Stubborn the grass sowing green wounded hills
As we wrap our healing arms to hold what her arms held
this ancient love, this aching love rolls on.
- From “This Ancient Love” by Carolyn McDade
In the last days of his life, Jesus gathered his followers and gave them a commandment and a promise. The commandment is to “love one another as I have loved you.” The promise is that in doing so, “my joy may be in you, and… your joy may be complete”. Love and joy are at the core of Christian living. It sounds like a good idea. Yet people struggle to work out what this looks like in practice. The first letter of John was specifically written to deal with this specific problem in the early Church. How do we love one another? One of the reasons the passage of Scripture still is read today is because we are still figuring out what love is.
We have one word in English. Other cultures have more. In the language of the Bible, the New Testament Greek uses three main roots to express different aspects of love. First there is ‘eros’: passion and romance and bodily intimacy. Secondly, there is ‘philia’: relating to family ties and duty and friendship. Thirdly, there is ‘agapé’: unconditional, sacrificial, covenant love. The word that gets translated in both Jesus’ commandment to his followers and the message of the writer of the first letter of John comes from ‘agapé’. Right from the start, we have a clue that what is being asked of us is more than just a wonderful feeling or a sense of responsibility to another. This is about love that engages our heart and soul and mind and body.
Importantly, love is experienced in relationship. There has to be a subject. Yes, there is such a thing as self-love, and it is important to value and care for yourself. But a person usually discovers how because someone has first loved him or her. That source wills us to be whole and healthy and joyful, and does what is possible to guide us into abundant life. One of the primary relationships in which we experience this is the one between parent and child.
Jesus not only spoke of God as his parent: he proclaimed that God is the parent of anyone who believes in him. He knew this intimate relationship from the beginning of creation, throughout his earthly life and now in his resurrected glory. In his ultimate act of loving trust on the cross, Jesus opened up a way to be born as his brothers and sisters. As 1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”. God our Mother as well as our Father through divine love.
The love of a mother is a complicated thing. We can call God Mother. We also sometimes speak of mother Earth and mother Church. Then there are human mothers: our biological parent, and perhaps the women who adopted, raised, taught, or nurtured us. Different reflections of what God’s agapé intends come through each of our experienced relationships. Some of us have very positive relationships with those who we have known as mother or “mom” or “mama”. But humans also get it wrong. When what is intended as love is expressed in controlling, smothering, or judging, our ability to learn and return loving is stunted. We can be disappointed and distrustful when someone tells us this is what love looks like. It will always fall short of perfect. The good news is that even though we may have experienced imperfect expressions in our lives from those who have tried and who try to love us, our hurts can be healed in the immensity of God’s power.
As a mother myself, I haven’t always got it right. My now adult children are the first to tell me. One of the most difficult things is to keep listening and learning as they become their own adult selves. They will make their own choices, and I have to remind myself at times that love means sending them out to do so, even when I want to protect them from the world. I have to trust that God will guide and parent them when they need help but don’t ask for mine.
What Jesus demonstrates is that love’s goal is to set us free to be our truest self. It is sacrificial in the sense that God wants what is best for you and will do whatever it takes to give you the choice to love in return. The consequence is that in loving God as our truest self, we can love others and ourselves. “Everyone who loves the parent loves the child”. That means we are called into a covenantal relationship with each other through the divine parent we share. Not just out of sense of duty, or because of passionate pleasure in the form or touch of another. But as a commitment of our whole self: feelings and spirit and head and body. “love with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength” as the great commandment goes. The reassurance is that this is not burdensome if we approach it from faith.
“Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one that believes Jesus is the Son of God?” (John 5:4-5). If we have faith in God’s love demonstrated in Jesus, then as God’s children we too are gifted with power. That ancient, aching Love began with creating the universe to share the joy known in the Trinity. And God will continue loving us until all is healed and our joy is complete. This is God’s parental commitment for all our life, from the moment we admit the possibility of unconditional love to the moment we are surprised by joy at death. The beginning and the ending make a complete circle. Today, let us have faith in the power of love which surrounds us from our birth, and over and around us lies. Amen.