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The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 37:30)

     Today’s gospel is one I find myself preaching on quite frequently, especially this time of the year, because many couples choose it for their wedding.  And it’s a great choice – even though, as I often tell the bride and groom – it’s a very challenging choice. Jesus gives a commandment that borders on the impossible: “Love one another as I love you.” How on earth is anyone to do that? Even a passing glance at the crucified Jesus – arms outstretched in the most vulnerable embrace of love imaginable - tells us that this is not possible. Yet that is his command: “Love one another as I love you.”

     Years ago I had the privilege of hearing the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu preach over at St. Mark’s Cathedral and he preached on this text. His homily was stirring, but his message was really quite simple. We who follow Jesus Christ are called to love, he told us, but not in the abstract; no, our love is to be like the love of Jesus: all-embracing, none-excluding. And he reminded us of the incredible compliment Jesus pays us: he calls us friends, brothers and sisters; and that, Tutu said, means that there is no one in the human family whom we are not called to love. Absolutely no one. Think of that for a moment, and then maybe fill in the blanks. It can be difficult when particular faces come to mind, can’t it! Coming from Archbishop Tutu, the message hit home. He’s no theoretician about Christian love. He’s the highly credible embodiment of Christian love: in so many ways, a lightning rod for human hatred and hostility at its worst, yet he loved his enemies because they were his sisters and brothers.

     There’s an old Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy announces, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!” Desmond Tutu left no room for that sort of selective love. Neither, of course, did Jesus. Nor can we. Here’s how St. Augustine put it in a homily long ago: “Real Christian love goes beyond words,” he said. “Real Christian love has hands to help others; it has feet that hasten to the poor and needy; it has eyes to see misery and want; it has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of others. This is what Christian love looks like!”

     My friends, the heart of our faith is not a catechism or a code of laws. It’s not a holy book, either, no matter how revered or how sacred. It’s not timeworn traditions or towering temples. It’s not hierarchy and it’s not sacred rituals. All of these have their place but only, only to the extent that they serve to bring people close to God. And only to the extent that they bring people close to each other in love – which is really the same thing for, as we were reminded in today’s reading from the Letter of John, God is love.

     So, forget the old man in the clouds with the flowing white beard, forget the stern, demanding judge and taskmaster; forget the miserly bookkeeper. Those are caricatures of God. God is love: passionate love, personal love, overflowing love, love beyond all telling. God enfolds each of us in an embrace that is wider than the ocean, deeper than the sea. And, you know, it’s this love that is God, and this love that God has for us, that makes it possible for us to love. Listen again: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that God first loved us.”

     God first loved us! In reflecting on those words, something occurred to me that helped me understand those words in a way I hadn’t before (I guess I’m a little slow!). It came to me that the reason Jesus was able to love so well, so perfectly, so unconditionally, was that he knew that God loved him. He knew it better than anyone ever has or ever will. Not even for a moment did he ever doubt or question God’s love. He knew it with every breath he breathed. And because Jesus knew God’s love for him in such a clear and intense way, he was able to love in the way he did, love extravagantly, love unconditionally, love without limit.

     And, my friends, when we wake up to how much God loves us, that’s when we begin to love. Really love. But not before.

     I remember the first homily Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen gave here in Seattle. It was at his Mass of Installation as Archbishop back in 1975. That’s forty-five plus years ago now, but I still recall what he said. He told us that his life changed completely the day he woke up to the fact that God loved him unconditionally. After that, he told us, everything changed. God looked completely different to him, and so did people. He could never look at God the same as before, and he couldn’t look at people the same way, either, because if God loved him unconditionally, God loved them in the same way.

     My friends, it’s all about love. Nothing is more important than love. Absolutely nothing! On this Mothers’ Day when we give thanks to God for the gift of our mothers and their love for us, may the God whose love they so beautifully embody lead us in the ways of love, and may Jesus who is the loving face of God and the very heart of God transform us by this Eucharist into disciples who love as he loves. Or who at least try!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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