6th Sunday of Easter
“Remain in my love… This is my commandment: love one another.” John’s strange and provocative language raises two basic questions:
1. What does Jesus mean by, ‘Remain in my love’? Can we fall outside it somehow? Isn’t God’s love unconditional? That is, how could we NOT remain in the love of a God who makes his sun shine and rain fall on just and unjust alike?
2. In what sense can love be “commanded”? Do we force ourselves to love? and how can the mutuality of friendship depend on obedience? “You are my friends if you do what I command you”—isn’t that like a parent who implicitly tells their children ‘Do what I tell you if you want the reward of my affection?’
To understand what Jesus might mean by “Remain in my love” we first need to determine the nature of this ‘love’; Jesus says it’s the same as the love he receives from the Father and abides in by obedience. So what is the Father’s love for the Son like? The Father loves the Son from all eternity; in Jesus that love ecstatically spills over into the world of time; the Son is nearest to the Father’s heart from; he remains and abides in the infinite security of divine love—AND he is sent forth into the radical vulnerability of life in time, in the flesh… a path that ultimately leads to the cross.
Likewise Jesus’ love for his disciples, or us, involves the paradox of complete security and total risk: no one can take us from the Father’s hand, we have been entrusted to the care of a good Shepherd who is totally faithful, whose love never fails… and yet we are chosen and sent forth like lambs into a pack of wolves. We can read the invitation to “remain” in the love of Christ as a summons to remain in the awareness and power of that love, and to live from it; to cultivate the seed planted by the touches of grace we’ve received in our lives—not the intensity of these experiences but their power and meaning.
Obedience to the new commandments involves fidelity to spiritual practices, prayer, reading and so on, with the goal of attunement to the changing movement of the Spirit in our lives here and now… like a sailor navigating in harmony with the shifting currents of the wind…or like Israel in the desert waiting for the Cloud to lift and point the way forward before breaking camp. Only by deep lifelong prayer, by immersion in the word of God, can we be soaked and saturated in the awareness of divine love… until this love spills over of itself into works of mercy… AND conversely it is only by going out of ourselves in love, putting ourselves at risk that we can remain in the security of a peace the world cannot give.
We remain in the love of Christ by loving one another— “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” —and by a deepening assimilation of the love we’ve experienced we are empowered and in-spired to go out of ourselves in love
Turning to our second question: how can love be “commanded”? and how can a friendship be based on one friend commanding the other? If we had a friend tell us, ‘We can be friends if you do whatever I tell you…’ it probably wouldn’t go over well. One way to read the passage is to understand the “command” not as some kind of juridical external injunction (like the speed limit) but rather the imperative of the risen life of Jesus within us. There is another life within our own and the art of remaining in the love of Christ, abiding in his friendship, is the art of harmonizing our actions and awareness with that deeper life until: It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in and through me.
The force of this life has the power of a “command” , the command and call of another; not a command barked out by a drill sergeant but the imperative force of joy: ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.’
We are “friends” in that we share in the joy of the risen Lord; we rejoice when he rejoices and sorrow when he sorrows.
What is the joy of Jesus? When we remain in his love, when we love one another and so extend to others, concretely, day by day, in each unique situation, the love of the Father for the Son, and the love of the Son for us, for his friends.
It is not we who have chosen Christ—he has chosen us; he has called each of us to a particular way of life, and as often as we go astray he calls us back, keeping us faithful, making us fruitful.
So: we remain in the love of Christ by the continual attunement of our prayer and action to the joy of the risen one within us. In this way we obey the “command”, the imperative to abide in and radiate the love of God. The wellspring of that love in time is the holy Eucharist. As we approach the Lord’s table on this Sunday in Easter, may we hear anew his invitation: “Come, enter into your Master’s joy.”