This morning’s Gospel begins: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) It ends with something similar: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (John 14:15) We cannot just love; it must be manifest. If I say, “I love you,” but never show it, what does it mean? So, if we love Jesus, we must show it; it must be a real love. (C.f.: James 2:14-17)

What are we to do? Jesus says to us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What are his commandments? When asked what is the great commandment, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37- 40) Our love of neighbour is like our love of God because it gives real expression to our love of God. So, there is really only one commandment, which Jesus gave us just before this morning’s Gospel passage: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

What does it mean ‘to love as I have loved you’? Shortly after today’s Gospel, Jesus will say, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:13-14) On the cross Jesus showed the depth of his love for us: he loved us as deeply as God loves us. (John 3:16) We are called to love each other that much — ‘with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind’; nothing is to be held back. (c.f.: Matthew 18:21-22)

Whom are we love like this? (C.f.: Luke 10:29ff) In Jesus’ day, a disciple did as his Master did; we are to love those whom Jesus loves, as he did. (C.f.: John 21:15ff) In our loving one another we show ourselves to be his disciples, and it is our loving one another that makes us his disciples. (John 13:35) As anyone knows who has loved another, this is no easy task: it calls for the utmost patience; and, it calls for much forgiveness. (Rule of St Benedict 72:5; Matthew 18:21-22) Left to ourselves, this is an impossible task. (C.f.: Rule of St Benedict 68; Prologue:41) But Jesus says to us, “I will not leave you as orphans,” “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16, 18)

We celebrate the coming of this Helper, this Paraclete, at Pentecost (next Sunday week), when Jesus says to us, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:22- 23) Dag Hammarskjöld, a former Secretary General of the United Nations once said, “Forgiveness is absorbing the hurt, instead of passing it on.” Anyone who has loved another knows the truth of this. This we must do, if we are to continue to walk on together; the alternative is to walk away. (C.f.: Rule of St Benedict 72:1-2)

Why would we do this? Only because of our love for the other. When we can do this, we must know that Christ’s Spirit has come upon us, enabling us to go on together in and through the love, which is God’s love for us in Christ. (C.f.: Luke 23:34) When we can love like that — in our loving one another, in loving and being loved — we will know ourselves so greatly loved. (C.f.: John 3:16) To know such love is to know Christ Risen, incarnate in the love. (John 14:20. C.f.: Luke 24:31-32) In it and through it we should recognise the Christ present in our midst. (John 14:20-21; Mark 1:10-11) When filled with Christ’s Spirit and empowered to love in this way, we should know God with us, and so know where Christ is. (John 14:23; Matthew 18:20; Deuteronomy 4:7) It is to this that we are called to bear witness (C.f.: John 15:26-27), which our Second Reading puts rather well: “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16) We must know that not everyone will welcome our witness, will not receive our love, but we are called to love anyway. (John 15:18-20) “For,” as our Second Reading goes onto say, “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17), … ‘absorbing the hurt, instead of passing it on.’ (Luke 23:34)

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO