Fifth Sunday in Easter 2001

Easter 5, Year C
May 13, 2001
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck

My younger brother turns 30 later this month. And hitting 30, of course, is quite the milestone. I’m not exactly sure why so much angst gets wrapped up in a person turning 30, but rest assured that I’ll be playing along. There will be black candles on the birthday cake, a card depicting a man with one foot in the grave, and wrapping paper made out of ads for Rogaine.  I’ll also be sure to remind him that if he were a baseball player, at the age of 30 it would be nearly impossible to get management to agree to that long-term contract. I just can’t let this opportunity pass me by. 

We have all reached milestones of one sort or another. A particular birthday, a graduation ceremony or a wedding, the birth of a child or the death of a parent. We use milestones to mark the passage of time, to note achievements, and to recognize significant moments in our lives. And this is a very human response, an attempt to create some order in a seemingly chaotic existence. There are significant events in the journey of our lives that deserve acknowledgment whether it’s publicly or in private. Some milestone events can transform our lives. Possibly even a 30th birthday, if, for instance, it opens your eyes to new priorities or a renewed relationship with God. Milestones can change the way we perceive the world and each other. When God’s hand and God’s presence is recognized at these important times in our lives, the effect can be awe-inspiring.

Next Sunday, 8 young men and women of this parish will be Confirmed by Bishop Rabb at the Cathedral. By seeking Confirmation in the Episcopal Church, they have committed themselves to making a public and mature affirmation of their faith. One of the great joys of my ministry at Old St. Paul’s this year has been getting to know our Confirmands. They are a terrific group. We’ve learned together, prayed together, laughed together, and supported one another on this continuing journey of faith. The rite of Confirmation will be a milestone experience in their lives. Not so much because of what will happen on that particular day, but because of their ongoing relationship with the risen Christ. They, like all of us, still have much to learn about the Christian faith and life. Mistakes will be made, disappointments and successes will be met, but above all they will come to know that Christ is present through everything that we encounter in life. That’s the milestone event for these young men and women and, as their sponsoring parish, we share in the triumph of Christ’s victory in their hearts, their minds, and on their lips.

The disciples, too, meet a milestone event in this morning’s reading from John’s Gospel. At first glance, Jesus’ “new” commandment that he gives to them is not particularly innovative or ground-breaking. Jesus says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” Okay, so we’re supposed to love each other. We already know that and so did the disciples. The heart of the Torah, what we call the Old Testament, and what the disciples knew as Holy Scripture, was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Fine. We’re supposed to love God and everybody else. So, how is this a new commandment? How does this statement become a milestone event for the disciples and for us? It’s interesting to note exactly what Jesus says here. He goes on to say, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This new commandment is not an easy one. Not only must we love our neighbor as ourselves, we must now love our neighbor as Jesus loves us. And how can we possibly live up to that? All we can do is try, with God’s help.

This is a new commandment because it’s a transformation of the old commandment to love God and one another now interpreted in light of Christ’s love for us. In Jesus Christ we have the perfect example of what love is, what love looks like, and how love is exercised. That’s why it’s new. That’s why the entire Christian life is a milestone. A life lived in the glow of Christ’s love is a milestone existence. This is how we have been called to live. And when we recognize that in this new commandment our entire life has been blessed, and sanctified, and set apart, the individual milestones become much less significant. It doesn’t matter whether we turn 30 or 50 or 17 and a half. Each moment is a milestone, each day brings opportunity, hope, and the potential for joy. 

It’s easy to forget just how powerful a milestone event Christ’s love for us really is. And unfortunately the whole notion of love gets watered down all the time. After all, there are radio stations devoted to playing “nothing but love songs.” If we pay attention to the ads around Valentine’s Day, the true measure of love becomes the size of the bouquet, the quality of the chocolate, the clarity of the diamond. It appears that money can buy you love.

But Jesus cuts through all of this by proclaiming a new commandment of love and then embodying this new commandment by laying down his life for his friends, for us. That’s why the Christian life itself is a milestone event. It changes how we respond in love to God and one another.

I’ll still do my best to tease my brother on his 30th birthday. I would be neglecting my brotherly responsibilities if I didn’t. But it will all be done in the context of the milestone event that is the Christian life and faith. Plus, I’ll have to wait another decade before I can really get him again.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2001

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