Over the past three weeks on this blog, I’ve pondered faith, hope, and love. Today, as Christians begin Holy Week, I want to return to the theme of love (which is, according to Paul, the greatest of the three).
A wise teacher is always learning, and during Lent I’ve been delving more deeply into the Gospel of John, courtesy the teachings of Br. David Vryhof of SSJE. He has been leading a couple hundred pilgrims in a deeper look at John’s gospel over these past weeks. It has been a good way for me to connect more deeply with the idea and the act of love.
Love, after all, was Jesus’ greatest passion and deepest gift to us. Somehow, no matter what the incident, love was at the root of all that Jesus did and the commandment by which he lived. He explained it this way in John’s gospel (13:34–35):
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus also promised that his followers will find their greatest joy if they “abide” in God’s love (15:9–11). “Abide” isn’t some passive word. Instead, it’s about hanging in there with Jesus, even when the going gets hard. Jesus is inviting his disciples to tough it out with him. “Hang in there with me,” is his message.
In order to make that easier, he promises to send the Holy Spirit, who is described as an advocate (a legal term for a protector and defender of someone who has been accused) and a teacher. Like the disciples, we are not alone on this journey. Once we make the commitment to follow him, we gain the wisdom of the greatest teacher ever: the Holy Spirit.
So where does that leave us today, as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year and we yearn, yet struggle, to imagine life beyond masks and fears? Where does this leave us as we enter Holy Week? Like the disciples, we can’t really imagine what lies ahead. Like the disciples, we may not be our best selves in the days ahead. We may let fear chase us away when we see the shadow of the cross. Like Peter, we may not be able to “hang in there” when the going gets tough.
Yet, like the disciples, we are instructed by Jesus to love one another. What does that mean, when the going gets tough? Can you abide with Jesus anyway, and learn the deeper message of love in the days ahead?