Readers please note that the views expressed are my own, and may not represent the views of other members of St Aidan’s Parkdale.
This week, my wife and I lost her mother; my much loved mother in law. She was a strong woman, but died struggling to breathe after years of suffering with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. I was holding her hand when she took her last gasping breath. At the time, she was mercifully asleep and under the influence of morphine and, with the knowledge that those who loved her were surrounding her, she slipped away.
It was an intensely intimate moment.
Love may be the most significant binding and healing power known to humanity, but it can’t be denied that there are times when love hurts. To enter into the commitment of love is a two-edged sword. On the one side, you have the possibility of the deep intimacy that arises from the confidence that you are loved and valued. On the other, it means making yourself vulnerable to pain.
It is no different in the family of the Church: Christ’s present body in this world. We are His corporal presence. At our best, when we love one another, there is a sense of deep connection and commitment. All too often, however, we are aware of the pain that arises from our own imperfections and differences.
Jesus himself shared the pattern for problem solving when differences arise. In Matthew 18:15 we find this: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” Clearly, if the difference is attributable to sin, this is the way. But what if the difference is just that – a more superficial thing? I think Jesus knew that there would be such times amongst his followers.
In John 13 we find this famous passage: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
These are lovely words, which most of us would wholeheartedly endorse. In the context, however, Jesus was preparing for his imminent death. He was about to leave his disciples – at least in his known form, and he knew there would be deep pain: the pain of loss, and the pain of betrayal…
Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
So Jesus clearly knew that despite the love evident in Peter’s words, there would be disownment and betrayal. How human he was; how human we are! How prone to a gulf between our words and our actions!
Nevertheless, Jesus embraced Peter in the full knowledge of this. For Christians, this is our pattern. This is our example. This is our inspiration and challenge: to maintain our vulnerability and intimacy in love despite the risk of hurt that accompanies it. We know that death is not the final word. We know that love requires us to maintain our connection.
When such differences become evident, God grant us grace to remain steadfast in love, and to continue to embrace the challenges of intimacy.