Of Cupid, and Lent, and the Dimensions of Love
On February 14 lovers will exchange cards and flowers in celebration of St. Valentine's Day. Three days later we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The feast of hearts and cupids and the season of Lent each - in its own way - points to the same thing: the mystery of love.
Traditionally, Lent is a season of preparation for baptism. It is a season of "recovery," a time to recover a sense of who we truly are as beloved sons and daughters of God. "Become who you are," St. Augustine of Hippo once remarked to a group of newly baptized in northern Africa. Indeed, through the motions and movements of the Holy Spirit, we are always becoming who we are called to be in grace and truth.
To be buried and raised with Christ in baptism, to pass through the waters of rebirth and be "born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," is to be brought face to face with our own belovedness. "[God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." These words from the Letter to the Ephesians underscore what baptism celebrates and conveys: that each one of us is a beloved son or daughter with whom God is well pleased, in whom God takes pleasure and delight, not because we have been useful or purposeful, but simply because we exist.
Love is more than a feeling. It is a capacity for relationship, a relationship of mutuality and self-giving which has its perfect expression in the inner life of the Trinity in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit give and receive from one another in an unceasing circle dance of dispossession. To be baptized is to be drawn into this circle and to find that our life is no longer our own -- not because it has been taken away, but because it has been taken up into Christ through the Holy Spirit, the minister of communion and relationship, who actualizes the love of God in our hearts.
Love, therefore, has to do with growth, growing up into Christ who is the head of the body, the Church, "from whom the whole body joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:15).
Like it or not, baptism binds us together in bundles of relationship. Some of these seem like the mystic sweet communion of which we sing. Others, none of us in our more sane and rational moments would ever have chosen. God's imagination is fierce and wild when it comes to determining who belongs in relationship with whom. Natural affinity and shared points of view may be allowed us part of the way, but then there comes that awful moment when our consciousness is stretched and we are invited to see in the unwelcome "other" some undeniable hint or intimation of Christ's living presence.
And loving makes its own costly demands. As Thomas Merton observes: "As long as we are on earth the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another. Because of this, love is the resetting of a body of broken bonesâ¦Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them."
God's love made flesh in Jesus and lifted high on the cross is a suffering love. And therefore if we through baptism are plunged into that love and raised to newness of life by its force and power, we can expect that the demands it makes upon us will not be without pain as we are brought face to face with the subtle and obvious patterns of our resistance to love: God's love for us and all the other broken limbs and bones God is seeking to reset and join together in the body of his Son.
This is a process of "re-membering." We are joined together as members of the body, and in this process, "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,'" as much as it may wish to, because in some profound way we are for one another's salvation. We need one another and that dimension of God's grace and truth, the fruit of the Spirit we each possess, which - over time - has been worked into the fabric of our lives.
It is not by accident that we are members one of another in the body of Christ, and it is through our outrageous particularities, which can as easily grate and annoy as well as console and inspire, that God carries on his unceasing work of binding up and making all things new.
As we enter upon the season of Lent may we be drawn into the deeper dimensions and disciplines of love: a love which embraces us in baptism and takes us beyond chocolates and candy hearts into the very life of God.
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA