A Word about the Readings (Reflection #2)
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
Our Collect and Lessons today set out the foundation of what will be our whole concern and effort throughout this Trinity season: our faithful commitment to, and our spiritual progress in, the merciful love of God. Last Sunday we shared in St. John’s heavenly vision, so that we found the life of God is not hidden from us, but revealed, and made present, poured out through the Holy Spirit for us to receive and to share: as this week’s epistle recalls, “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”
And so today John leads us to consider more deeply what the meaning of that life might be: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” This is not, as we might assume, only because of our need for redemption—though redemption certainly does depend on the priority of God’s grace and mercy, His desire to initiate our rebirth into love. It is first of all crucial that we understand how our created nature is not equal to, but in the image of, the uncreated nature of God. This is the clear teaching of Genesis: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” An image is both coherent with, and dependent upon, its source. The source of our nature is the divine community, the Three-in-Oneness, which, says St. John, “is love.” Therefore, our life is only properly realized, and fulfilled, as we reflect the love of God.
Reflection has two moments: the receiving of the image source, and the outward expression of the image in the world. In a mirror, light is met by the glass, which duplicates the shape of the light and sends it back outward. So it is to be with our souls, and the order of events is crucial. As our Collect reminds us, we only find strength ‘with God’, that is, only as we receive the grace and mercy which first of all, He has given. And then, says John, we are called to share this same mercy: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” This is a direct echo of the New Commandment Jesus gave the disciples at the Last Supper: ‘that as I have loved you, so you also love one and other.” We must learn to turn to Him, and to make our prayer for what He has first given—His Redeeming love. That is the whole sense, for instance, of the Lord’s Prayer. Then we may minister those riches—true riches, free from earthly fears and vanities—to our neighbour. That is the point of the parable in our Gospel: Christ encourages us by showing the terrible torments that come as consequence of our failure in love: torment, most significantly, for the wealthy man, who trusted only in his own power, and in the end found the anguish which such false trust brings; but also torment for Lazarus, the torment in this life that comes to a soul because no one shares with him the love of God. Only the gift of charity can relieve the burden of fear that supposes we are not worth being loved, or worst of all, that we are not able. “Perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment.” So let it be with us, and as we make our way through this Trinitytide, let us be a constant reflection of St. John’s prayer, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”