9th May 2021
Parish Church of St James, Louth
1 John 5.1-6; Acts 10.44-end; John 15.9-17
+ May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was small I used to be taken to the house of theologian friends of my parents who had no children, and hence no toys. However they had a high shelf of three or four beautiful things, and they loved children enough to let me play with them. One of them was a huge Matryoshka or Babuskha wooden nesting doll, bigger than any I have seen since—or perhaps it’s that I’ve grown!
Our readings today have brevity and yet a rich intensity. The first words of the Gospel especially remind me of that Matryoshka doll. They nest us within concentric circles of love. ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love’. God encloses Christ, enclosing us, who are then called to enclose one another in love. Nested loves which bring us all into God.
But it’s a Russian doll that defies physical representation, because to love God’s children is to love God, so the smallest doll and the largest doll are one and the same.
The gopsel asks us to abide and remain within this enclosing economy of love. To remain, dwell, become fuller and more perfect in our joy. How do we do this? By obeying God’s commandments. But as Jesus affirms to us, at the heart of those commandments is nothing but the one golden commandment: to love one another in some understanding of how we ourself are beloved.
What is the love of God? Human beings over the centuries have sought that mystical and perfect thing in myriad ways. But our gospel here, when it tells us that to love God is to love one another, to love one another is to love God, when it opens and closes the nesting circles upon one another, tells us that it can be found all around us. That we can seek that mystical and perfect thing, be completely drawn up into God, not just by decades of silent dwelling in a desert cell, but by turning towards one another, towards any human being, with the expectant face of love. Hopkins’ poem ‘as kingfishers catch fire’ tells us humankind
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of [our] faces.
And our reading from Acts reminds us to what an extent this free play of God’s life is beyond our boundaries or understanding, how God in his Spirit is at work like a wild wind in the world, blowing where it will, teasing us by its presence just when we thought we were out of reach of anything sacred or holy. Christ’s words are pointed—whilst our acceptance matters, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you.’
Today is Rogation Sunday, marking the time of year before Ascension Day when churchgoers would traditionally ‘beat the bounds’, wander out from their church buildings to affirm God’s temple not made with hands by walking the boundaries of the parish, taking them through town and field, claiming it all for God and learning in the meantime that there is nothing that does not come from him and cannot be further drawn into God’s purposes.
All those we meet or see—queuing for ham at Lakings, sitting in the waiting room of the GP surgery, walking a dog or ourselves through Hubbard’s Hills, at our kitchen counter, stopping to acknowledge someone’s need in the street—as much there as here, when we turn to one another in the light of the resurrection at the peace. It’s true of our prayer life also. When we seek out with the encircling power of our compassion particular others, and include those hard to love or envisage, the horizon we move towards is the eternal horizon of God’s never-exhausted love.
If to truly love one another is to abide in the love of God through Christ, the reading from John says the converse is also true. The more we gaze towards God, the more, as if in a vast mirror of his being, we truly see and adore what he loves.This is the beauty of the creative loop of love we profess, whereby we cannot go out of ourselves without returning to God, cannot rejoice in anything or anyone without through it growing closer to, understanding more of God.
So this Rogation week, in the days before Ascension day, I commend to you a holy walk of some kind. It could be an ordinary errand, or more of a pilgrimage—but a walk where you take the time to gaze into God’s mirror, to find Christ in the features of men’s faces, to know the wind of his Spirit as it blows, and to feel yourself ever and always nested and enclosed in God’s love, abiding in it, being made perfect in your joy.
Revd Dr Arabella Milbank Robinson
Team Parish of Louth
01507 604 215