Sunday 11th February

John 13. v1

‘Now before the festival of the Passover Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father; having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’

My eye was caught by the rare coincidence this week of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.
In the sermon I reflect on how the catch-all word ‘love’ is used for so many emotions and relationships, from ’I just love that dress!’ to ‘God so loved the world’. And I refer to a book by C S Lewis (of ‘Narnia’ fame) called ‘The four loves’, though not to recommend it as it is so dated – only half a crown and full of sexist language!  Lewis perceptively steers us through the levels of commitment which the word ‘love’ covers, and reminds us of the supreme example of self-sacrifice (which is present even in a small way in every human relationship) which God demonstrated in and through Jesus of Nazareth. As Lewis reminds us, ‘Love’ covers such a rainbow of emotions and relationships, from casual affection through friendships and intimate partnerships to something as committed as Jesus in his Passion (which is itself a wonderfully ambiguous word).

The word ‘love’ appears in the fourth Gospel more times than in the other three put together. John’s message is of a God whose love is, as Isaac Watts’ hymn has it, ‘so amazing, so divine’ that it ‘demands my soul, my life, my all’.

Everyone (not just the novelist or dramatist) knows that love is measured on a scale of selflessness. And in one climactic phrase, John has Jesus asserting that there is no greater love than giving one’s life for the beloved (15, v12). Very few are called to go that far, of course. But the notion of selflessness is key to being human and is very similar to what love demands. (And I say ‘demands’ because there is usually emotionally no choice.)

The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, ‘not my will but yours be done’, can best be seen as a declaration not of obedience as such but of his love for God – and crucially as evidence of God’s love for us active in him. Later, John’s first letter (in which the word ‘love’ appears no fewer than 35 times!) spells it out: ‘God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them’. This is the Emmanuel promise of all the gospel writers. A promise to us, too, if we seek to live selflessly and lovingly, as a true human being should and as Christians certainly should.

Enjoy Valentine’s day (if only for the memories!) and then remember how Ash Wednesday also looks forward through Lent to the Passion of Jesus. And give thanks.

Revd Peter Brain