30 May Sermon: Easter 5 (Year C)
The Prologue to St Benedict’s ‘Rule’ famously begins with the word listen. The word is made much of in talks and sermons on the Benedictine life, not least in Benedictine monasteries. It goes on: Listen carefully…listen carefully with the ear of your heart to the advice of a father who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.
Listen carefully, and, Listen carefully with the ear of your hear: these get less of a mention – and what is actually heard when they are may disappoint the preacher.
But what follows? To what are we to listen carefully with the ear of our heart? To the advice of a father who loves you. This is advice of a father who loves us. It’s as we grow in the knowledge and trust of that love that we are freed to embrace the demands of our discipleship. Rather than murmur, complain or resent, we will be free to welcome them, and be able to put them into practice gladly and generously – whatever is asked of us. Dag Hammarskjöld warned: ‘It will cost not less than everything…’. But Jesus promises the hundred-fold. And he also gives us the key.
We heard it in this morning’s gospel reading: Love one another .It is so familiar, so well known, and, like the second sentence of Benedict’s Prologue, it is so often skimmed over by most of us who would claim to be disciples of Jesus as not really applying to us as we engage in the cut and thrust of daily life, but that is precisely where we are intended to live it so that everyone will know you are my disciples. Jesus doesn’t call it “advice” but a “commandment”… his “New Commandment” because he knows it is more than a tool for evangelism; it is our entry point into eternal life in God. To love one another is the way we engage in the ‘dying and rising’ of the Paschal/Easter Mystery.
Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
In his wisdom, Jesus knew that he could tell us until he was blue in the face that God loves us, but we wouldn’t be able to trust that it was true. ‘How can you trust the love of someone you can’t see if you don’t experience being loved by the people you can see?’ – so ‘Love one another whom you can see.’ Easier said than done! – however much we may want to, however hard we try, it seems like an impossibility…and to love AS Jesus did!?
We know that, on our own, we can’t love one another as Jesus does, but most of us aren’t asked literally to die for each other – but we are asked to die for each other in many less dramatic ways. When we find ourselves resisting or resenting – that’s when we need to remember: “What do you seek?” “The mercy, (the womb) of God” – as the foetus is totally dependent on the mother, so we are totally dependent on God, and our resistance reminds us that we can’t go it on our own; we need the grace of God.
In Chapter 72 of the Rule Benedict says of good monastic zeal, This, then, is the good zeal which those who follow the monastic way must foster with fervent love: they should each try to show respect for the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or character, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. None are to pursue what they judge best for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else…..
But what is happening when we ‘die to self’ out of love for another? Rather than selfishness prevailing, love is – and St John insists that God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. … and isn’t this what we are called to – to be alive in God and allowing God to live in and through us?
We may jib occasionally at being interrupted in the middle of something or resent being asked to help another during what we may think of as ‘my’ prayer time or ‘my’ space, but if we can respond gladly in an attitude of love, it will bring us into the deepest communion with God who is the Love itself. This is a taste of the eternal life Jesus promises. This is the hundred-fold.