The Wardrobe of Easter: Love

What better place to celebrate the Good News of God’s agape and to get the instruction manual for learning how to live it out toward others than in the congregation of saints on Sunday morning? There we gather to hear about and to celebrate, to receive instruction and to pledge anew.


By the measure of most, he was the 20th-century’s greatest theologian. His magisterial Church Dogmatics is a treasure-house of profound theological insights.

But his mind was too small and his vocabulary too inadequate properly to describe who God is. So Karl Barth blurted forth simply: “God is the One who loves.” And when later he was asked what his deepest insight after a lifetime of studying and writing about God was, again Barth was profoundly simple: “Jesus loves me.”

Different words for love

Ancient Greek language had more than one word for “love.”

It distinguished between eros, acquisitive, desiring, “hungry” love, and agape, generous, sacrificing, giving love. An erotic lover longs for—loves—her beloved in order to satisfy her own craving and need. An agapic lover does the exact opposite. She seeks to give to her beloved, so that she may satisfy and complete him. Eros strives to receive value (from the beloved). Agape aims to create value (in the beloved).

With enduring, unswerving agapic love—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else—God relates to the world God made. God’s nature is to give. Accordingly, it was agape that prompted God to create in the first place—God longed for an object on which to lavish generous goodness. And when that world perversely rebelled, then, in response, “God so loved—so agaped—the world that he gave his only begotten Son….” to rescue and save it (John 3.16).

Agape and the Prodigal Son

Scripture shows no clearer view of God’s agape at work than Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son as found in Luke 15. One fact—one alone—is sufficient to explain why his tired and wildly wandering son returned at last to the eager-to-forgive father: It was the father’s magnetic love which wooed the son and drew him home.

Said Soren Kierkegaard: “When it is a question of a sinner, He [God] does not merely stand still, open his arms and say, ‘Come hither.’ No…He goes forth to seek as the shepherd sought the lost sheep, as the woman sought the lost coin. He goes—yet no, He has gone, but infinitely farther than any shepherd or any woman, He went, in [truth], the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man, and that way He went in search of sinners.”

St. Paul commends us—no, he commands us—as followers of Jesus to wear agape daily as part of our Easter apparel. Agape once prompted Jesus to give not less than everything for us upon the cross. Raised with him to a fresh and new way of going at life, now we must show agape toward others.

Turning agape on its head

Our native impulse, of course, is to do the opposite. We are “selves in love with ourselves,” as Walker Percy says. So when it comes to evaluating our relationships—with our friends, our spouse, our colleagues, our neighbors, our fellow church members, even with God himself—deep within we discover a little voice clamoring for attention.

No matter how altruistic or magnanimous we may appear outwardly, inwardly we’re quick to listen to that little voice’s incessant, self-maximizing questions: “But how much are you getting out of this relationship? Is it worth your while?

Put a gang of (us) self-maximizers together in, say, a family, a neighborhood, a business, a church, a legislature, or a nation. Sooner or later you’ll hear each pleading politely—or snarling impolitely!—for “my rights.”

No villain wreaks greater havoc upon a human community than each of us who is part of it. How ready we are turn agape upon its head, to steer it in the wrong direction. We “take pleasure in pleasing ourselves,” as 17th-century Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor once said.

Wrap ourselves daily in agape

“Pleasure in pleasing ourselves.” That’s an apt phrase to describe the self-centeredness which infects us all. John Calvin assesses us soberly: “For such is the blindness with which we all rush into self-love that each one of us seems to himself to have just cause to be proud of himself and to despise all others in comparison…Hence arises such insolence that each one of us…wishes to tower above the rest…and looks down upon him as an inferior….Thus, each individual, by flattering himself, bears a kind of kingdom in his breast.”

No wonder St. Paul needs to encourage us as followers of Jesus to wrap ourselves daily in the all-weather outer garment of agape. He bids us tie it tightly around us as a belt (sundesmos means “binder” or clasp”). Agape holds the other parts of our Easter uniform--the set of virtues he lists in Colossians—in proper place and allows them do their proper work.

Paul notes one more feature about agape: It completes. The word he employs here, Teleiotes, means “goal, maturity, perfection.” Living agapically is the summit of resurrected, Christ-like living.

To hear that it was God’s agape which prompted him to create and save us: That’s news far more glad and wonderful, says Frederick Buechner, than hearing we’ve won the Irish sweepstakes. It’s worth dancing for joy about, and celebrating for all we’re worth.

And to learn how to show agape toward others: That takes a lifetime of daily trying to put it into practice.

What better place to celebrate the Good News of God’s agape and to get the instruction manual for learning how to live it out toward others than in the congregation of saints on Sunday morning? There we gather to hear about and to celebrate, to receive instruction and to pledge anew.

Prayer

We praise you, Triune God, and give thanks for showing agape toward us without measure. Prompt us, in turn, to show it toward others, thus to display Jesus who is alive and at work within us.


Hymn: How Great Is the Love of the Father

How great is the love of the Father, 
the love he has shown to us—
so great that he calls us his children,
and children of God we are,
and children of God we are.

The world without God does not know us
because it did not know Christ.
Lord, help us to be pure and spotless,
for children of God we are,
for children of God we are.

What we are to be in the future
as yet has not been made known,
but when Christ returns, we shall see him,
and then we shall be like him,
and then we shall be like him.

Words: 1 John 3:1-3; vers. Edna W. Sikkema, 1986, © 1987 Faith Alive Christian Resources

The Wardrobe of Easter Series

This series was written to be read in the following order:

 

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