Easter: Love, the Foundation of Christianity.
The Apocalypse, or as it is properly named, The Book of the Revelation of Jesus, begins with seven letters to seven Christian communities. The communities represent all of Christianity. The letters are the framework for the entire Book of Revelation. All but two of these letters condemn the new Churches for watering down Christianity, for restoring pagan practices, for being part-time Christians, etc. The first of these seven letters addresses something that is fundamental to Christianity. This is the Letter to Ephesus. Note now, this is not the New Testament Letter to the Ephesians, but a message from Jesus through the Book of Revelation to all who were making the terrible mistake which was prevalent among the Ephesians.
The letter begins by complimenting the Ephesians for their courage and faith. "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance." That term patient endurance refers to suffering for the faith including martyrdom. The Ephesians are commended for fighting against evildoers and for rooting out false apostles from their community. They are commended for hating the works of the Nicolatians. The Nicolatians were people who tried to water down Christianity saying that Christians could attend and participate in pagan sacrifices and pagan immorality. Still the Ephesians are censured. They are told they are fallen. They are told that unless they change something that is fundamental in what they are doing, the Light of Christ will be removed from them. What is this they are doing? The letter says: "I hold this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first." You see, the Ephesians were fierce in defending the faith. They were brutal to others and among themselves. In the name of orthodoxy, they broke charity. That is where they were losing their Christianity. Orthodoxy for the sake of orthodoxy always defeats itself. Orthodoxy only has value when it is founded upon love.
In the second reading for today from the First Letter of John, we read: "the person without love has known nothing of God, for God is love." (1 John 4:8) Stern and fierce in their decisions, never considering the pain and grief of the person they censured, the Ephesians were following the rules, keeping the dogmas, but not practicing the faith. Their community was not reflecting the love of God. They were orthodox for the sake of being orthodox, but in reality they were not Christian.
We can look at the history of the Church and see how in certain areas in certain epochs this mistake was repeated. For example, how can we find justification for the Spanish Inquisition, for the pillaging that was part of the Crusades, for the religious wars occasioned by the Protestant Reformation, or for the continual persecution of the Jewish people in the Middle Ages and beyond? The love of God was not in evidence in any of this.
Still, we, as a community and as individuals, shouldn't be as concerned with history as with our own tendency to repeat the mistakes of the Ephesians. For example, take gay bashing. A person may have a gay orientation and not be engaging in any form of immorality just as a person may have a heterosexual orientation and not be engaging in any form of immorality. But even if people are immoral, openly so, no one has the right to attack them, to treat them with scorn, to refuse compassion when they are hurting. Where is the presence of the love of God in the reputedly good Christian who seeks ways to hurt someone who is gay?
A number of years ago, one of my cousins and her husband befriended a house painter from England who had done some work for them. He had great stories about life in the English countryside. After about a year, he became sick. My cousin visited him in the hospital. He told her that he was gay and had contracted AIDS. His entire family had deserted him. My cousin and her husband visited and cared for him, almost living in the hospital, until the day he died. The love of God was evident in their actions. This love was not evident in those who deserted him, perhaps, claiming high moral grounds.
Is the love of God is evident in our own family structures? We have to have rules in our families. Out of love for our children and our teenagers, we have to set guidelines so they can grow, develop, and spread their wings while they are still under our protection. More important than these rules is the reason for their establishment: love. You make rules for your children because you love them. At the same time, we have to be careful that we never allow a rule to destroy love. For example, saying to a teenager: “You know the rule. You broke it. Now get out of this house.” or “You ran off, and now you're in trouble with the law, don’t even think you can come home. “ or “You broke the rules, you are no longer part of this family,” are the ways Christians should act. No good was every accomplished by hiding love behind rules.
"As the Father has loved me so I have loved you. Live on in my love. You will live in my love if you keep my commandments. This is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you." Today's gospel leads us to pray: Lord, help us to be people whose structures as a country, a family, and in all relationships, reflect the presence of your love.