As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. -John19:9-17
Because it is the last Sunday before Ascension Day, the texts of the sixth Sunday of Easter in effect become the last words of the resurrected Jesus to his friends. Jesus, about to ascend to heaven, leaves this instruction: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
As I have loved you: radical love of enemies, the poor, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, lepers - that is to say, anybody who makes you cringe. Here's love's relentless challenge to the righteous and pious; truth telling, table overturning, and finally cross bearing and death embracing,and laying down your life for your friends.
It makes me want to hide under my desk.
I'd feel better if Jesus really ascended far away into heaven, remotely busying himself at the “right hand of the Father.” Unfortunately, the enthronement takes place within each and every heart. Your own hidden heart. My own imperfect, sickly heart.
Loving one another as he loved us, is, indeed a most intimate commandment. And every year, when the Sixth Sunday of Easter "Love Sunday" texts comes around, I'm not sure I'm up to it.
To adapt the prayer of the father of the epileptic child in Mark 9:14-29; Lord, I love; help my lovelessness.
Meditation One (Introit) That They May Be One
I can say that that eternal world is like the white light of the sun, in which all the colors of the rainbow are present and in which each retains its own distinctive character. Or I can say that it is like a symphony in which all the notes are heard in a single perfect harmony, but in which each has its own particular time and place. Or I can say that it is like a multitude of thoughts gathered together in a single mind which comprehends them in a single idea embracing all. Or going deeper, I can say that it is like a communion of persons in love, in which each understands the other and is one with the other. “I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one.” This is as far as human words can go.
-Bede Griffiths 1906-1993 Return to the Center quoted from The Essential Mystics, Andrew Harvey
Ascension, Andrea di Vanni d'Andrea, 1355, detail
Ascension, Andrea di Vanni D'Andrea, 1355, detail
Meditation Two (Insight) Enthroned Within
Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Come, mine elect one: and I will set my throne within you. -Antiphon at Lauds, Saints Days
It came to me that the soul is like a castle made exclusively of diamond or some other very clear crystal. In this castle are a multitude of dwellings, just as in heaven there are many mansions. … this castle has many dwellings: come above, some below, others to either side. At the center is the most important dwelling of them all where the most secret things unfold between the soul and her Beloved.
-Teresa of Avila 1515-1582 The Interior Castle, Translation by Mirabai Starr
Meditation Three (Integration) Being Happy Now
We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him at this very moment. But being happy with Him now means: Loving as He loves, Helping as He helps, Giving as He gives, Serving as He serves, Rescuing as He rescues, Being with Him twenty-four hours, Touching Him in his distressing disguise.
-Mother Teresa of Calcutta 1910-1997 Quoted from Andrew Harvey, The Essential Mystics
The Last Word
I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.
"I should be a hostel for all sentient beings, to let them escape from all painful things. I should be a protector for all sentient beings, to let them all be liberated from all afflictions. I should be a refuge for all sentient beings, to free them from all fears....
"I should accept all sufferings for the sake of sentient beings, and enable them to escape from the abyss of immeasurable woes of birth and death. I should accept all suffering for the sake of all sentient beings in all worlds, in all states of misery, for ever and ever, and still always cultivate foundations of goodness for the sake of all beings. Why? I would rather take all this suffering on myself than to allow sentient beings to fall into hell. I should be a hostage to those perilous places- -hells, animal realms, the nether world--as a ransom to rescue all sentient beings in states of woe and enable them to gain liberation. "I vow to protect all sentient beings and never abandon them. What I say is sincerely true, without falsehood. Why? Because I have set my mind on enlightenment in order to liberate all sentient beings; I do not seek the unexcelled Way for my own sake."
-Avatamsaka Sutra (The Flower Garland Sutra) collected ca 420 but texts are earlier
And Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” -Luke 23:34 This story is often told by the Dalai Lama about a Tibetan monk who had been tortured in a Chinese prison for 22 years. When he reached Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama asked him: "What were you afraid of the most in prison?" He replied: "I was afraid that I might lose my compassion towards the torturers."