Sunday Week 6 of Easter Year B

Join me for a moment in thinking about the people in your life who you love. Parents, children, husbands or wives, companions or partners, friends, lovers… Remember your first love … remember your latest. When I do that, when I remember the people I love, I see their faces and I imagine their hands. It might be different for you but that’s how it is for me. Somehow love is about eyes to look into, and hands to touch and be touched by. And not just any eyes and any hands but these eyes which look back so tenderly into my own, and those hands with their unique character and texture and weight. I don’t love just anyone — I love real, solid, individual people — in all their distinctive, odd, particularity. Some of are bound to me by bonds of blood. We are tied by kinship and resemblance and long years of familiarity. Some are drawn to me, and me to them, by leading strings of love freely given, freely exchanged, in the friendship of shared desires and humble attractions. But family or friend or lover or life-partner, these are the ones whose faces never leave me, whose features never leave me unmoved. I see them and I am touched, I feel, I hope, I fear, I doubt, … Something shifts in my stomach. They hold out their hand and I want to take it, to hold it, to keep it, to enfold it.
I do not know what love is but I know who these people I love are. And knowing them I catch a glimpse of what love is, of what it is to love. And knowing what it is to love I have the hint of the shape of the outline of what it is to be loved. Not in general, not in abstract, but as me — with these eyes, this flesh, these hands, this body. I know what it is to love someone else — the risk of it, the vulnerability, the fragility, the passion, the pain and the glory of it — and I learn what it is to be loved, to be the object of someone’s desire, their risk, their passion, their pain, their glory. And learning love I learn power and taste freedom and know wonder. Learn the power I have to hurt or to exalt. Taste the freedom to respond or to repel. Know the wonder of love’s innocence and love’s economy.
Can you see the faces of the ones you love? Can you hold their hands in yours? Can you feel that shifting in the pit of yourself that they evoke in you? And you in them?
If you can, then you can say with St. John: “Love consists in this; not that we have loved God but that God has loved us.” Like it or not—understand it or not—feel it or not—God loves us with all the risk, all the passion, all the pain, all the glory, all the delight of the love we cherish for those special to us. Strange to say, we have become special to God. God looks into our eyes and is moved. God reaches out in risk to touch our hands. God has befriended us — has tried to, has made the first move, taken the first risk, and stands like a lover, waiting nervously, fragilely, to see whether our response will bring hurt or delight. Not in general, not abstractly, but for me, for each one of you, in all our distinctiveness, with all our quirks. God is partial to each one of us.
How do we respond?
The readings today have a lot to say about this, offering a vision of a Christian community founded on friendship and built on mutual love. But alongside the warmth of all that particular care and love, those familiar relationships and bonds, alongside that stands a vision of Christian community that is not partial, not exclusive, not particular about who belongs and who matters. The challenge and the call is for us, for you and me, to cherish both visions. That we might a draw in all impartially and love all with great partiality. But can we do that? Don’t we love by accident, on account of particular likes and dislikes? Maybe we do. But at least we know this. God manages to have a passionate, daring, risky, heartfelt love for me, and for you and you and you and you. Not for all but for each. With all the power and passion of particular bonds. With all the impartial generosity of unbounded benevolence.