Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Little Children, love one another

Saint John the Divine on his deathbed ... from a window in Chartres Cathedral

Patrick Comerford

Isaiah 49: 1-7;
Psalm 71: 1-14;
I Corinthians 1: 18-31;
John 12: 20-36.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Jerome, in his commentary on Chapter 6 of the Epistle to the Galatians 6 (Jerome, Comm. in ep. ad. Gal., 6, 10), tells the well-loved story that John the Evangelist continued preaching in Ephesus even when he was in his 90s.

The evangelist was so enfeebled with old age that the people had to carry him into the Church in Ephesus on a stretcher.

And when he was no longer able to preach or deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on every occasion and say simply: “Little children, love one another.” This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his death-bed.

Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out. Every week, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.” One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?” And John replied: “Because it is enough.” If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is. “Little children, love one another.”

If you want to know the rules, there they are. And there’s only one. “Little children, love one another.”

As far as John is concerned, if you have put your trust in Jesus, then there is only one other thing you need to know. So week after week, he would remind them, over and over again: “Little children, love one another.” That is all he preached in Ephesus, week after week, and that is precisely the message he keeps on repeating in his first letter (I John), over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

This week, this Holy Week, we are on a journey with Christ, through his Passion, Death, Burial and Resurrection.

But where is it leading us to?

We can be like the crowd in our Gospel reading, finding Christ’s message and challenge a mere disturbance of our peace and tranquillity, like a thunder storm.

Or we can see the Cross ands the Resurrection as a challenge to become the Children of Light.

“Little children, love one another.”

There is no such thing as “loveless Christianity.” It’s like saying you can have a meal without eating anything.

Where there is no love there is no Christianity. And John says it over and over again to his readers – because it’s worth repeating, because, indeed, it is enough. Christ’s love for us, in the cross, in the grave, and in rising again, shows that it is enough.

“Little children, love one another.”

And now may all praise, honour and glory be to God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This address was given at the Early Morning Eucharist in the chapel on Tuesday 7 April 2009.