By Frank Wessling
This week that Christians call holy should have another name as well, one that suggests more action. “Holy” carries unfortunate connotations of something quiet, passive; finished, complete, or whole in some way but not exciting.
Why not also call this the Week of Love. That would be more fitting for the celebration of divine action in and for us. After all, when Jesus says from the cross, “It is finished,” he refers to his part in the dynamic of love. The rest of it, love in history, is ours.
The aging Hippies among us will remember the “summer of love” in 1967, when thousands of young “flower children” flooded the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco to groove on drugs, communal living and “free love.” California’s city on the bay wasn’t the only place where this happened in those days, but it became the most famous. The “love” didn’t last, of course, because it involved a fantasy flight from responsibility and, in action, a great opportunity for the more aggressive to exploit the more dreamy.
The Christian story, in contrast, is about love that endures. We should be more open about that. Hiding it in phrases like The Paschal Mystery may impress a few people who realize that today is the feast of Passover and know its meaning, but for most of us such language draws a blank. We can do better.
This Week of Love remembers and celebrates the dramatic sendoff Jesus got from our ancestors. He had said that eternal life requires the planting of a previous life in the rich soil of service to the “neighbor.” This didn’t fit their notion of a properly rich life, so they planted him, thinking of it as revenge. And the road to new life was opened for everyone who tries to follow.
We are told that this new, eternal life comes from and goes to love. “God is love,” is the simple statement of 1 John 4:16. It continues: “…and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God in them.” Those ancestors of ours who pushed Jesus on his way understood dimly that God and love go together. But they struggled — as we still do — with the old ego that says I must endure, there must be no loss of I, no limiting or diminishing. I must have my way, I must, in the end, have that apple. I must survive.
Certainly there is an I, and it should survive in some way or this life means nothing. There is no I that exists in isolation, though. That’s the false road the ego is continually trying to take. We have life because of relationships and we realize what and who we are in relationship.
In the words of religion, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Or, as any wife or husband might say when advised to think of her- or himself: There is no myself alone. I am a self-committed, a self-with.
There’s the rub and the glory, the sacrifice and the gift.
To spark the love which transforms life and makes it eternal, Jesus continually speaks of and demonstrates self-abandonment in service. He tells people that the law is fulfilled in love of neighbor. When they ask who a “neighbor” is, he responds with a story about detouring a trip in order to pick up a stranger along the road and pay for his care while he recovers from a mugging.
On a business trip of his own he stops when a poor nobody of a woman cries for relief from an illness that makes people shun her.
Explaining how the key to heaven is turned, he says it requires attending to the plea of a hungry man at our door, the distress of someone out in the cold, the loneliness of a prisoner in jail or a nursing home bed. Meditate on Matthew 25:31-46.
Following Jesus through death to new life may seem hard if we only look at the summing up of self-giving represented on the cross. It helps to widen our remembering and see how the journey to the cross — and through the resurrection — is made up of small steps carving a habit, a path, of loving attention.
This is the way we meet Jesus in love redeeming the world.