Dear friends, I’m indebted to a friend of mine who introduced me to the American country and folk singer-songwriter Diana Jones. She has an amazing voice, and her songs speak poignantly of life’s relationships, life’s emotions, and life’s dramas.
One of her songs, Henry Russell’s Last Words, is based on the true story of a miner who emigrated with his wife and family from Scotland to work in West Virginia. In a terrible underground explosion in 1927, Henry was trapped in a mine shaft, unable to return to the surface. Knowing the oxygen level was running out, and there was no means of escape, Henry gathered small scraps of paper torn from cement sacks and, with a sharpened piece of coal, wrote a series of notes, love letters really, to his wife Mary. In them, Henry described what was happening and gave advice to the wife and children he would leave behind, ending with ‘O, how I love you, Mary.’ In Diana Jones’ song, this forms a touching refrain: ‘O, how I love you, Mary.’
Easter celebrates the Christian certainty that love is stronger than distance; that love is stronger than the passing of time; that love is stronger than death. ‘In the body,’ says St Peter ‘Christ was put to death; but in the spirit He was raised to life.’ It is the spirit of the risen Lord that has been poured out upon the Church and given to us, the spirit of love that unites us in Christ.
So many people since the dawn of humanity have tried to capture what love really means. Love is described as an intense feeling; a powerful attraction; a deep longing for connection that stirs within us. Love can drive us to forget ourselves completely. We’ve seen something of this during this pandemic in those who have ‘forgotten themselves’ in loving service of others. The Rite of Marriage speaks of a husband and wife ‘forsaking all others’ to love their spouse. Love consumes us. Love restores us. On the cross, love pays the price for our freedom. ‘O, how I love you,’ says the Lord Jesus, with a death defying, redeeming love. ‘O, how I love you,’
Contrary to the often quoted saying, the great G K Chesterton wrote: ‘Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is.’ Rather, writes Chesterton, ‘Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.’ What does he mean here?Well perhaps that true love is bound to that which is loved. A person who loves another person, is bound to them with eyes wide open. In offering something to us, in fulfilling the desire within us, love also asks something from us.
The Lord Jesus began to prepare His disciples for the time after his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, and this is recorded in the Scriptures in what is called His ‘farewell discourse.’ It’s a part of this we heard today in the Gospel from St John. Through these powerful words, the Lord Jesus speaks repeatedly of the relationship between loving Him and keeping His commandments.
Loving the Lord Jesus means being bound to Him, and through Him to His Father. Loving the Lord Jesus means being bound to His way of loving and to His way of living. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the song ‘Love changes everything.’ This has to be true for us as disciples. The love of Jesus has to change how we live, even if for most of us find this is a very gradual process. Bound to Christ through love, we are bound to His commandments through love.
If the fruit of loving Jesus is keeping his commandments, does this suggest love must somehow be restricted and limited by rules and laws? The simple answer is no. In fact, the very opposite is true. Love of God in Christ is bound to what God shows us about how to live. Loving Christ and living His commandments are bound together, not to curtail us, but to free us for authentic self-giving.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains this when he says the Christian way of living ‘does not wish to stifle love, but to make it healthy, strong, and truly free.’ He continues ‘this is the exact meaning of the commandments, which are not a series of ‘noes’ but a great ‘yes’ to love and life.’
‘If you love me,’ says the Lord Jesus, ‘you will keep my commandments.’ Our experience reminds us that our desire to love the Lord doesn’t always translate faultlessly into keeping His commandments. We are slow learners when it comes to living and loving like Jesus. But here’s a wonderful truth. We have not been left orphans to fend for ourselves unaided. The Lord Jesus promised us an advocate; someone to stand beside us, someone to live within us, to help us and to guide us. This is the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Acts of the Apostles tells that when Peter and John when to Samaria, they prayed with those who had been baptised to receive the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to shape our love of the Lord Jesus into a joyful living out of His commandments, of His way. The Spirit of truth, living within us, draws us more deeply into loving relationship with Christ and through Him with His Father. And from that loving relationship we cannot but want to desire to live in a way that is worthy of Him.
So, dear friends, be encouraged. From the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord this coming Thursday, we begin the great Pentecost Novena. For nine days we can pray daily in words like these: ‘Come Holy Spirit; Come Spirit of Truth; Come Spirit of Love. Come and fill my heart. Renew within me the gifts and fruits and graces that I need to live and love like the Lord Jesus.’ Living according to the commandments of the Lord Jesus, begins with us praying in the power of the Holy Spirit: ‘O, how I love you, Jesus’ – ‘O, how I want to live like you, Jesus.’