Dear Parish Family,
The prayer book's collects or weekly prayers capture themes about God's power and majesty but they also, reflect the yearnings of our own hearts, and our own desires especially in times of suffering. It is an inescapable part of Christian life that even as we are called to love each other as God loves us, we make ourselves vulnerable to suffering.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, a theologian at Yale, captures this critical relationship in the following quote:
Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much.
Suffering is for the loving. This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer."
To love in the way that Christ invites us to love, is to make ourselves vulnerable and open to human suffering and disappointment.
When I reflect upon our Lord's commandment to love, there are two powerful images that come to mind.
First, there is unconditional nature of God's love for us ideally seen in the way that a parent loves their child or in the love we have for a sibling or spouse. While they may not always be perfect, there is in these types of relationships the understanding that no matter how much of a mess we may make our lives, we can count on that person's love.
It may not always be the warm fuzzy kind, but the constant inspiring sort that gives our lives hope and meaning even in our darkest days.
Secondly, there is another powerful Christian image from the Stations of the Cross you may have seen depicted in Christian art. The next to last station, the 13th one, just before Jesus is placed in the tomb, our Lord taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of his mother. This is the suffering aspect of Christian love, the promise that when we have relationships we open ourselves up to the possibility of suffering in our earthly lives.
This possibility of sorrow though, always goes hand in hand with the great joy that comes when we open our hearts to those that we love. This what our collect is trying to capture when it talks about the promises that truly can exceed all that we desire when we live out Jesus's command to love each other as God loves each one of us.
My hope is that our love for each other, and for our church community will always reflect the love that God is willing to give unconditionally to each one of us, that each of us will have the courage to let this love change us, and reshape us into a people whose love is strong enough to suffer.
But more importantly, if we have the courage to go on this journey, we will find our love is also strong enough to have the kind of joy and strength that only the risen Christ can give.
Pour into our hearts, O Lord, such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that you or I could ever desire.