Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Dedicated in faith, hope and love to +Steven Charleston
Click link above to play MP3 file ~ Play Time: 15 min.
Love is at the heart of the gospel, and at the heart of the Mission of the Church and the Mission of God (see 1 John 4). Love drives and compels our relationships with God and with one another. This is a love sprung from grace, a love that encompasses and embraces the entire world. It is a love that binds us together as a community of believers, and it is a love that compels and invites us to welcome and embrace the stranger. The Holy Scripture calls us to love the stranger—the alien—among us as we remember that we were once aliens in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-4). Paul admonishes us to extend hospitality to strangers (Romans 12:13), Peter urges us to be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9), and the author of Hebrews tells us to continue in mutual love and show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:1-2).
The practice of hospitality is rooted in our common life in the gospel and lived in our common life as Church in the world. Rather than allow our identity as a community to isolate us and cut us off from those who are different from us or unknown to us, we must open ourselves to accept and acknowledge our God who came to us in love as a stranger and who we rejected (see John 1:10-18). As disciples of the one who overcame rejection, suffering and death, we must strive to overcome the barriers that divide and the fear that separates us from God and from one another. We begin to overcome these obstacles when we practice hospitality to learn and teach love.
Modernity has taught us that to be individualistic is to be human. We are divided and separated by our autonomy and suspicious of those who are unlike us, especially those whom we do not invite or expect to come into our individualized spheres of personal experience (often even if that “sphere” is the pew next to us). As Gregory Jones puts it in his book, Reading in Communion: Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life, “The practice of hospitality that is rooted in the love of the gospel is a dangerous practice. It surrenders control and takes risks.” The gospel of love is a gospel of risk-taking. We must walk in the confidence of God’s steadfast love to overcome our fears of reaching out to the other, to the stranger, to the alien in our midst.
As an “Easter people,” we walk in love with Jesus who has changed the very meaning of life in his triumph over death. Yet, the one whom we meet after the resurrection is himself a stranger. Mary does not know him in the garden; the disciples do not know him on the road to Emmaus. The encountering of the risen Christ as stranger is an invitation in love to open ourselves to the practice of hospitality. That openness reflects the love through which God has acted to save us and walk with us in newness of life. We are met by a stranger, and it is the encounter with this stranger which generates our own most central sense of identity, of ‘being at home,’ so that the believer can invite the whole human world to find a home in the same encounter.
The virtue of love is not a uniquely Christian virtue; it is a virtue of God, by God, and through God to all people. God sanctifies and seeks to reconcile the whole world through the Incarnational reality of God as Jesus Christ. In doing so, God is calling all people to reconciliation and mission rooted in the virtue of love. We can obey before we believe. We are called to follow the living, loving example of Jesus Christ whether we have been baptized into his death, resurrection and ascension or not. The action of God was for the whole world. God calls and compels us to newness of life in the virtue of love and compassion irrespective of our belief in Christ’s salvific action.
In his book, Transforming Mission, David Bosch specifically rejects salvation as the primary motivation for religion. Bosch does not accept that a Christian is someone who stands a better chance of being saved, but that we are called to accept responsibility to serve God in our lives and promote the reign of God in all forms. Hence the tension between “mission” in the traditional, Medieval model of conversion only, and our new call to mission in dialogue with all people in the post-modern, post-Christendom reality of today’s global culture.
Although we Christians hold and acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation, we must also acknowledge and accept that God reveals the reign of God and the will of God in many ways. The Holy Spirit empowers the whole world in the newness of our relationship to God through the Incarnation of Christ. The Incarnation precedes the salvific action of the Paschal mystery. Love became Incarnate to sanctify and restore a broken and fallen creation. The sin of the world was borne by the Lamb of God upon the cross. Sin and death are forever broken and all humanity is invited to share in the new life we have seen revealed through Jesus life, ministry and the power of God in the Paschal mystery. Jesus is the Light that enlightens the nations. Jesus, by breaking the bonds of sin and death is the supreme ruler of the world. Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, bore all sin and offers mercy, love and reconciliation though his passion, death, resurrection and exaltation.
Thus, it through the ultimate gift of love—the Incarnational reality of God in Jesus Christ—that the world receives the ultimate gospel virtue: love. That love was a gift of grace to the whole world and the whole world is called to act in love toward reconciliation to God and to one another. The Church is one vehicle to reach out in love to accomplish the ultimate mission of God. We walk together in the reality of Love Incarnate with the whole family of the children of God in the created universe to respond to the love God has shown and continues to show throughout the cosmos.
The virtue of love is made manifest in our lives in the practice of hospitality. We are not strangers to one another, but fellow travelers through time and space within the loving companionship of the Spirit of God. We can neither learn nor teach love when we perceive one another as outsiders, interlopers or strangers. We are reminded that when we welcome the stranger, we may be unaware that we are entertaining angels. As Jesus was once a stranger to the world, we are all, in a sense, strangers to the world. Strangers to the old world of sin and death, and strangers in a new global community that must strive to find the light of love in one another. The virtue of love as it is learned and taught in hospitality compels us to open our hearts and churches to welcome the stranger—the alien. We cannot do so in fear and hesitation, but in taking the risk that is implicit in loving openly and honestly. The walls that separate and divide have been torn down by the God of the Incarnation, and we must strive to carry out the Catechism’s teaching of the Mission of the Church: to reconcile all peoples to God and to one another.
Copyright © 2012 The Rev. Scott B. Monson. All rights reserved.
Easter candy doesn’t seem to last very long at my house. The Cadbury eggs are always the first to go—followed closely by the jelly beans. Soon, they’re gone with nothing left but a discomfiting sense of guilt.
Guilt sometimes haunts our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection as well. A vague sense of disbelief lingers—that this is just too good to be true. Our “alleluias” ring with a faint pang of doubt. We’re having our annual “Thomas moment.”
But that hint of doubt shouldn’t trouble us. Jesus expected something like that from at least one of his disciples, and he expects something like that from us. Jesus doesn’t reprimand Thomas for his doubt. Instead, he exhorts Thomas to believe. And Thomas does believe, proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”
That’s why we call it faith. We don’t need to touch, see or hold on to Jesus to know he’s real, we know it in our hearts. We don’t have to witness Jesus rise from the tomb, we know he lives by his presence in our very being.
The risen Jesus’ encounter with Thomas is a story of hope and promise, not judgment and reprimand. It stands as a pledge and a promise to us that we too will experience the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:37-40
It is often said that Christians are an “Easter People.” We walk in the sure and certain hope that just as Jesus rose from the dead to sit at the Father’s right hand, we too have Jesus’ promise that all who believe in him will have everlasting life. Our response to this promise—this gift—is to worship God with praise and thanks for what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ.
But there is more to it than that. Beyond our thanks and praise, Jesus calls us to a different kind of life—a different way of living. As an “Easter People,” our response to the gift of forgiveness and eternal life compels us to try to live lives that reflect our new status. We are a people forgiven, healed and renewed by Jesus’ Body and Blood, and we are called to share that Good News with the whole world.
Our response can and should be rooted in love. As Jesus himself has told us, love for God and love for our neighbor is the foundation of Christian living. Because God first loved us, loved us so much that we were given God’s only son for our salvation, our response to this love is not only to love God as deeply and fully as we are able, but also to love everyone else as deeply and fully as we love ourselves.
For most of us, if not all of us, the second part of the Great Commandment is a lot harder than the first. I am reminded of the story of a seminarian who, repulsed by the smell and heat and press of bodies in a crowded subway station, began to complain heartily about “these people!” The seminarian’s companion replied, “My dear, ‘these people’ are those for whom Christ died.” A loving, distant God in heaven is much easier to love than “these people” with whom we live on this closer, crowded planet we call Earth.
But that is precisely what we most certainly, most desperately, need to do. Human beings in general—and Americans particularly—are an unforgiving, vengeful lot. We want to “get even” for what we take to be a slight, an offense, or an attack. By “getting even” we usually mean we want to return the slight, the offense, the attack equally or even more so. Our wounded pride is satisfied by wounding another’s. Where in that is love?
What we fail to recognize, what we fail to honor, is that through Christ we are all already “even.” Jesus, as Paul writes, died “once and for all.” If we could begin to respect one another as equally loved, equally forgiven, equally saved by God through Christ Jesus we could begin to live the second of Jesus’ Great Commandments with greater success. This is what it truly means to be an “Easter People.”
In this time of violence, strife, argument and disagreement, God continues to call us to love not to hate. God continues to call us to look beyond the immediate to the eternal. What in a moment of anger or outrage might satisfy our pride is most probably not consistent with the loving future God wants for us. It is not God who has created the turmoil that surrounds us; it is turmoil of our own making born from our love of self above our love of others.
This Easter, amidst the joy and celebration of our new lives in Christ, let us also celebrate the joy of new life with others. Let us begin to set aside our pride and petty difference that not only separate us from each other, but also separate us from God. Let us strive to become an “Easter People” who know and reflect God’s love through our love for one another as equals—equally beloved children of God.
Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
Lent is not a season for mourning; it is a season for renewal. Look at the land around you at this time of year. It is resting under a blanket of snow, but just beneath the snow are powerful stirrings of life—renewed life—making ready to burst into a glorious and fruitful spring. Indeed, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this season is known as the Lenten Spring.
Lent is a fallow season. It is a time when we look inward to the state of our soul. Even our souls need renewal, and the season of Lent calls us to introspection and self-examination so that we may see the work that needs to be done to make us again whole, complete and fruitful in our faith. It is a season to open ourselves to the powerful, healing love of God through Christ Jesus.
Lent is a season to repent—literally to “turn around”—to see where we have been that we may better know where we are headed. It is a season to turn to Jesus and offer up all that weighs us down: our grief, anger, self-pity, dissatisfaction, envy, un-forgiveness and resentment. Jesus invites us to give him these burdens to bear so that we are freed to take on his burden—the burden of discipleship, love, faith and hope.
Lent is a season for letting go: that is, of letting go of what stands between the way we have been going and the way Jesus bids us to go. This Lent, start to let go of the petty concerns and burdens that we have taken upon ourselves. Turn off the TV or the iPod or the computer for a little while, and in those quiet, fallow moments, think about what is truly important to you. Think about where you have been going, and think about where you would like to be going.
Look in your hearts and souls for those first stirrings of new life. Then, nurture those stirrings and give them the time, space and food that new life needs to become vibrant, strong and fruitful. Nourish your rested souls with the renewing waters of baptism and the life-giving food of the Lord’s Supper. Be regular in prayer, and be regular in silence. Open yourselves to the new venues God has prepared for you, and with renewed commitment, ask Jesus to give you the courage to follow where he leads you.
Forgiven, healed, renewed in Lent; offer your very best to God in the glory of Eastertide. Resurrect your spirit and your soul to new life in him who rose on Easter that we might live forever in his loving grace. Set aside your old self and embrace the new life you have received through your baptism into Christ’s death and mighty resurrection. Be reborn into the Baptismal Covenant and renew your promises to love and serve God as we love and serve others.
Almighty and everliving God, who in the Paschal Mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP 223
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about the child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:16-19
Can you imagine? Can you imagine what Mary must have been thinking as she pondered all that had happened and had been foretold? Can you imagine?
Imagination is at the heart of our experience of Christmas. We, with Mary, Joseph, the angels and shepherds, are part of something magnificently wonderful—something that words cannot begin to express. We are part of the magnificence of God’s greatest gift, the gift of the Incarnation, something so spectacular that we are only able to imagine its implications.
God loved the world so much that God glorified the whole created order by becoming a part of the creation itself through the birth of Jesus—God’s only Son—to Mary. This act of love transformed the world and continues to transform the world as we know it.
Pondering the transformation of the whole world is daunting, to say the least. Perhaps we would do better to follow Mary’s example and ponder the implications of God’s gift of love in our own hearts—how does the Incarnation impact my life and my relationship with God?
To put it very simply (perhaps too simply), the Incarnate Christ is a constant reminder of God’s continuing, intimate presence with us; and we are a constant reminder of our continuing presence to God. The ongoing power of the Incarnation keeps us in a relationship with God that is deeply personal; it is what gives us the audacity to claim our inheritance through Jesus Christ as daughters and sons of God. As Paul writes, “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Gal. 4:6,7)
What greater gift can we receive than the gift of God’s unconditional love? But we feel unworthy to accept that gift because we are broken, sinful human beings. Yet it precisely because we are broken, sinful human beings that God has given us this gift, a gift that transforms us and enables us to love God and one another as God loves us. Moreover it is a gift that is ours forever for, as Paul writes in Romans, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:38,39)
Through this perfect gift of God we are transformed and we are empowered to continue the transformation of the world in the ways in which we share this gift with others. The love of God through Jesus Christ is inexhaustible. The more we share it, the more we receive, grace upon grace.
This Christmas season, and always, share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. As a child of God, accept your portion of the work we have been given to do to help embrace a sin-sick and weary world that all may come to know and accept God’s perfect gift of love to us through Christ Jesus. Imagine the difference this gift will make in the world. Imagine the power you can begin to unleash. Imagine.