Love that is more than affection

02 November 2006

WE WISH our readers again a joyful and blessed celebration of the feast of the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is of the first importance to remember that this is the goal to which everything in the Church’s observance of Holy Week is moving. The victory of the resurrection, the glory of the ascension, and the new life of the Spirit given in its  fullness at Pentecost — all these cast their light backwards into this week, as it were, even as the Church remembers the desertion, darkness, and despair of the last days of our Lord’s earthly life. Good Friday is not a stand-alone event, the last word in the human-divine history. It is, as the musician or poet might say, only an anacrusis. That is why it has no eucharist of its own. Yet very often a contrary impression is given. In town after town, the main ecumenical event is a Good Friday witness, not an Easter one. At a time when any emphasis on guilt is regarded with suspicion, the Churches may need to reorientate themselves to preach once again a message of irrepressible gladness.

How odd that concept can seem when so many are experiencing the Christian life disproportionately, in terms of competition and rivalry over interpretations and emphases within the faith itself. Christian witness to truth will always lead at some point through suffering: there is no resurrection without the cross. But the challenge of Holy Week is, not least, to turn away from being preoccupied with “my” cross, “my” suffering — or “our” pain, however real it is to us. It is the cross that each of us has placed on others that should concern us; and above all, of course, the cross that we have placed on Christ — directly, by a lack of love for God, and indirectly, by failing in that love of our neighbours that our Lord also commanded.

Love, as the Christian Church understands it, is not only or chiefly about feelings and emotions. It is about the will. In Anglican leaders’ deliberations recently, there has been a great deal of emphasis put upon the notion that certain actions have harmed the “bonds of affection” within Anglicanism. Yet affection, as all Christians have to learn at some point, is not always to be had. When it grows cold, as it may, there remain the essential facts of the Church and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, instituted by our Lord himself on the first Maundy Thursday. Christians must never withdraw from communion with one another for want of affection only, for affection is one of the many gifts and graces that the Lord of the eucharist will provide in due time. Rather, we must go on, through the darkness and the coldness, just as we would if we experienced these difficulties in prayer, because the resurrection is waiting just around the corner — if only we obey.

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