The Preacher’s Study
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts of the Apostles 11.1-18
It gets me every time! It startles me. Momentarily embarrassed, I quickly look around to see whether anyone saw me jump as the drops of water flying through the air slap me in the face. It’s not as though I am surprised to have water tossed in my direction. After all, it is Easter and the sprinkling ritual is intended to make present for us our identity as the Body of Christ. As the water drops are absorbed into our skin, so too is our baptismal vocation. We are to wake up to the reality and the demands of sharing in the very life of Christ. The cold drops of blessed water alert us to the work we are called to do. As sharers in Christ’s life, we share also in Christ’s work.
What is this work? Today’s gospel passage makes it plain – we are to love one another. The mandate is clearly stated – and repeated: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus describes the work his disciples are to do: “Wash feet.” This radical command to be servant to one another is another way of saying “love one another.”
Significantly, acting upon this mandate to love is made possible only because Jesus loved first. In the stories of the New Testament, we see Jesus love others in ways that bring them to life time and time again. It’s not a superficial or passing kind of love. Jesus expends himself. He acts with freedom and takes risks in loving others. There would be costs. He is totally available to others, because all lifelong he died to the human tendencies to act out of concern for self or to be present to others only when convenient. This gave him the capacity to love others into life.
Jesus loves us into life. It is a love that summons us to leave the grave of self-concern and self-sufficiency. It is a love that holds out the radical promise of freedom – freedom from our own foolishness in pursuing what is of our own design and thus, fleeting. It is a love that assures us that by setting aside our own needs and expending ourselves for others, we will discover new life. Do we want to respond to this life-giving love? Do we want our lives to be transformed? Are our hearts open to Christ, whose Spirit animates our ordinary yet extraordinary lives?
When we’re open, our capacity to love is expanded. By being loved into life, we can love others into life. Who needs for us to love them into life? Do we want them to come to life?
Or do we sometimes block life for others – like those times when we treat others as invisible, fail to help them realize their gifts, hold fast to narrow attitudes, levy harsh criticism, or seek to defeat or belittle another. These actions – or sometimes inactions – can be symptomatic of what holds us back, whether fear, self-absorption, pettiness or our own emptiness and discontent. We can get in the way of others coming to life. We can be forgetful and neglectful. We sin – and what is sin but blocking out the life the Risen Lord offers? But Jesus Christ never ceases to call us out of our inward turned selves and surrender to love. We can then be ever more available to others…our hearts expand and we are ever more freed to expend ourselves and risk loving another into life.
What stories would you tell? When has Jesus loved you into life through others loving you? When have you been the face of Christ for others and loved them into life? Was it today? Did you look someone in the eyes to let them know that you saw them? Did you offer an affirming word or touch? Become aware of a need and act? Did you do something to lessen just a little bit of the suffering in the world? Did you help someone discover meaning in their life? What stories might you tell tomorrow?
Anne Y. Koester, JD, MA, teaches Christian Initiation, and Catholic Ritual, Spirituality, and Justice at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. She is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, participating in the Christian Initiation Seminar and serving as Seminar Delegate and Member of the Academy Committee. She is author of Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), editor of Liturgy and Justice: To Worship God in Spirit and Truth (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002) and, with Barbara Searle, co-editor of Called to Participate: Theological, Ritual and Social Perspectives. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2006), and Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2004).