A reflection on the readings for Easter 6B: Acts 10:44-48, John 15:9-17
Yitzak was liberated from a concentration camp in 1945 after which he came to America and built a new life for himself. He studied, worked hard, and became a research physicist. Many years later, when he got cancer he enrolled in a workshop at Commonweal with the hope that he could recover from the disease through a variety of healing processes.
Commonweal is a nonprofit health and environmental research institute in Bolinas, California, founded in 1976. Among other things they offer retreats for cancer patients like the one Yitzak enrolled in. The retreats last a week and include a lot of different avenues for support and healing including, hugging, silence, yoga, walking, and meditation. Yitzak was not very comfortable with hugging, but he allowed others to hug him nonetheless.
On the fourth day, when the effects of the silence, meditation, and daily yoga, were beginning to affect the attendees Yitzak had an unusual experience. It seemed to him that through his closed lids he could see a deep pinkish light, very beautiful and tender. Startled he realized that the light seemed to emanate from his chest outward, surrounding him and the people in the room with him. The fact that it seemed to be coming from his heart made Yitzak feel particularly vulnerable and a little frightened.
Having survived a concentration camp Yitzak had learned to live with his heart held very close. He did not love many people, mostly just his closest family and friends. Living with a carefully guarded heart enabled him to feel safer, but now, as he felt this opening of love for the people in the room with him he began to feel afraid.
On the final day of the retreat the leader did some exercises to help the attendees tie up any loose ends that they might feel from their experience at the retreat. She asked Yitzak how he was feeling. “Oh,” he said, “Much better now.” “Why,” she asked, “what happened?” Yitzak replied, “One day I took a walk along the beach and I asked God if it was OK to love strangers.” God answered, “Oh, Yitzak, what is strangers? You make strangers. I don’t make strangers.” (adapted from Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen)
Each year in the Easter Season, for seven Sunday’s following Easter, we hear the story of the birth of the Christian church told through the Acts of the Apostles. The Christian story is a story of how strangers, transformed by love were suddenly able to understand one another, of how people from different walks of life were transformed into community and became one. This reading from Acts describes a portion of that journey bringing a traditional Jewish group into relationship with a group of Gentiles and the community was reformed in a new way.
In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus reminds us of God’s inclusive love by showing how it is that we are all inter-related – God, Christ, you, me. The gift of God’s love poured out for us is made known in Christ’s invitation to abide in love. Abiding in love is also the way we keep the commandment. Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
The word commandment as John uses it is not about obeying a “law,” the breaking of which could bring harsh punishment. The commandment to love in John means something like a “requirement” to love. This commandment to love builds on the summary of all the commandments - which Jesus defines as to love God, love self, and love others. This commandment, this love, this abiding in, this requirement means: “I love you AND I want you to love others.” Or more specifically: “Love others AS I have loved you.” It is not a romantic love, not the kind of love that brings two people together in passion. Rather this love is a love that gives of itself for the other – a love that strives to enable another to become the very best person they can become. I love you in such a way that you can become most fully who God intends you to be, and I hope that you will love others in this same way.
This love that Jesus speaks of is a love of action. It is the love that grows out of our baptismal covenant to care for others in this world; it is love that calls us to be the hands and heart of Christ.
Lawrence Kuschner, a rabbi and Jewish mystic describes this kind of love this way:
“Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle
And so it goes.
Souls going this way and that
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.
But know this. No one has within themselves
All the pieces to their puzzle.
Like before the days when they used to seal
Jigsaw puzzles in cellophane. Insuring that
All the pieces were there.
Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else’s puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don’t.
And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you,
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High.
(Honey from the Rock)
God does not create strangers. We do. Human beings create divisions between one another. We define who is in and who is out. We make strangers out of people. But, when we are able to experience the depth of love God has for us, each of us, then we are able to love as God loves. God’s love will abide in us and we in God’s love. When the love of this abiding presence is put into action we can heal this world and. like a puzzle, make it whole. Abiding in love, love in action means, that my joy will be in you, and your joy will be in me, and therefore OUR joy will be complete.
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