Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Love.
The resurrected Christ comes into our midst today.
And invites us to love one another.
Love "just as I have loved you."

At first glance the invitation seems like one
that will soften even the hardest of hearts.
Warm the coldest of people.
Tame the harshest of our words with one another.
Curb the most extreme rhetoric we use against one another.

It is true that there's nothing
a little generosity,
a little understanding,
a little graciousness
won't help.

But, this love Jesus invites us to.
Is a little more than meets the eye.
Actually a lot more than meets the eye.

This love Jesus invites us to
is the flip side of our Easter proclamation.
Begins on the flip side of the new life we proclaim.

This love Jesus invites us to
this love "just as I have loved you"
has its glory, Saint John tells us,
—that is to say, is the work of God's new creation—
in Betrayal.
Struggle.
Passion.
Death.

Love bending down to wash feet.
Love laying down life for friends.
And yes, even for enemies.

We're told by this world of ours,
this prosperity-at-all-costs culture of ours
to avoid love such as this,
avoid anything that doesn't do something for us.

While we might not confront that sort of mentality
as Saint Peter did with visions of four-footed animals,
we see it before us.
Its not simply that our advertisements
airbrush away any sort of blemish,
it is that any and every negative is sugar-coated,
otherwise it doesn't sell,
because we wouldn't believe it to be true.

Just think of your average 90-second commercial
for your favorite pharmaceutical.
Pleasant images dance on the screen
to the most soothing music,
while an angelic voice
reads the list of possible side effects,
each one worse than the previous
often concluding with the risk of death.

We can't possibly help but internalize
such distorted perspectives.
The implications of which we're seeing play out
in our society,
in our communities,
in our houses of worship.

We've come to believe there is
no possible value in loss,
no possible value in sacrifice.
So much so,
we go to great extent to cover it up.
Or pray it away.
We've actually begun not simply to demonize struggle.
But the people who endure it.

Illegal, we call those who courageously cross the border.

Problems, threats to national security,
we label refugees seeking life outside war zones.

Worthless, we say of youth
captive to an economy rigged against them.

Thugs, we demonize unarmed black children.

Entitled, we cry against those
whose well-being relies on social welfare.

The echoes of the circumcised and uncircumcised,
who is in and who is out,
still with us today. Sisters and brothers,
I'm not saying that
to "love just as I first loved you"
is to desire any of this hardship,
this betrayal,
this struggle,
this passion,
this death.
But, certainly,
to "love just as I first loved you,"
cannot mean these
shallow, individualistic, inward-turned,ways
fast taking root among us
as new social and religious norms.

Instead, to "love just as I first loved you"
is a conscious choice
against these ways.
To refuse to cover up struggle.
To refuse to think of pain and loss as valueless.
To refuse to demean people who have been betrayed
or endure hardship.
To refuse to see death as something without meaning.

A conscious choice to seek out understanding.
A commandment to honor one another, to honor ourselves
even in the most confusing and distressing of circumstances.

A gift, really,
for God promises that in
"loving just as I have loved you,"
the giving of ourselves by such love to one another,
is not futile or destructive,
as the culture around us would want us to believe,
but is fruitful beyond measure
and is nothing other than new and abundant life
for us and for the whole world.

It is often said that people who struggle most
exhibit the greatest of joy.

That people who face profound hardship
have the greatest sense of gratitude.

Without diminishing that truth and their experience in any way,
we too have opportunity to grasp grace more profoundly
in this our own culture saturated by
plenty and prestige and privilege.

Because to love
"just as I have loved you"
is powerful.
Powerful enough
to overcome
the very Betrayal.
Struggle.
Passion.
Death.
Incurred by many.
And feared by many more.

A powerful witness
to the culture of futility
infecting the church,
our communities,
the city,
our world.
Which is why we gather at this table.
Because the clearest witness we have
to this sort of love
and the new heaven and the new earth
where love rules all-in-all
Is this bread and wine.

For in it Christ comes to us
as the one who endured
betrayal,
struggle,
passion
and death for others
and yet lives.

For in this bread and wine,
God in Christ Jesus comes to us broken.
So as to draw
all our brokenness together.
And to make us whole.
And well.
And one.

For in feasting on this meal of death.
God gives us life.
Life now.
And a foretaste of life which ever shall be.

Life which truly comes by loving
"just as I first loved you."

Which is why we pray
God might find us always faithful
in the breaking of the bread.

Because it is not simply that like any food
this table gives us sustenance,
but that it forms us.
Forms us for and by the love by which God first loved us.
Forms us because though
we cannot change what happens to us in our life,
or to others;
we cannot choose our church or our society,
we can shape our response.

That's the thing about this food.
That's the thing about Christ's promise
in this new commandment.
Living a life shaped by this love.

Living it we will find.
Not loss, but gain.
Not fear, but hope.
Not, sorrow, but joy.

Not despair, but confidence to proclaim:
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York