“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)
Things were easier in elementary school. Milk came in single servings, we had designated times for naps, and I always knew what season it was just by glancing at the bulletin board boarders. October had jack-o-lanterns, November was turkeys, December evergreens, January snowflakes, and in February little red hearts abounded. I learned in elementary school that February is a month dedicated to love. We would set aside a day to pass out cards letting everyone know that we loved them. We passed out little inspirational sayings on candy hearts that I think were made of chalk dust and sugar. And I learned that love is best expressed by sharing food, preferably sweets.
As an adult things are a bit more complicated. We’re rarely reminded to take a nap, let alone to love one another. And even when our brains are prompted to consider the nature of love, it is so often contextualized to focus on only one small aspect of the inbreaking power of unbounded love. Consider Valentine’s Day. This global holiday with Christian roots dating as far back as the third century which originally honored the sacrificial love of others has gradually become pigeonholed into something celebrating romantic love and consumerism. (Thanks Chaucer) Can we love one another without buying anything on February 14th? Without a doubt, though I think Hallmark and Daffins would argue the point.
Or consider that most famous chapter from 1 Corinthians. The Love Chapter. Chapter 13. Even the one who has never graced the sacred spaces of a sanctuary would know this text. And just like our other reminders of love, this text is too often found exclusively in wedding halls, oriented nearly exclusively toward romantic love. But Paul had a more grand vision in mind. All love, not just romantic love, but love between neighbors, friends, partners, families, strangers and even enemies falls into the vastness of this thirteenth chapter.
All love begets kindness, patience, and truth. All love benevolently challenges arrogance, rudeness, pride, envy, and wrongdoing. Any community where love truly exists must seek beyond knowledge, beyond prophesy, beyond flowery eloquence, the hallowed quest for unity. Because that love, in fruition and maturity, demands that we see each other as we see ourselves. That we love each other as we love ourselves. That we recognize the spark of the Creator in each of us and insist upon that dignity which comes with being a child of God. And that love never ends.
Though we now are struggling with how best to live out that love that has been given to us by our Creator in the exact same way that the church in Corinth was struggling, we yet hear the powerful proclamation that Love never ends. It is only our childishness, our lack of maturity, which has caused us to see irreconcilable differences with the other. It is only the dimness of our sight, the warped and bubbled reflection of the world as in a cracked and dirty mirror, which has caused us to see someone as wholly other.
Now it is time to grow up. Now it is time to seek knowledge of the other, just as we have been fully known. Let the partial come to an end as we seek fullness of an all embracing community, with recognition of the fullness of Christ’s presence, and let our hearts be full to overflowing with the love that binds us one to another. Pass out valentines if it helps, break bread with strangers that the other might be known in our midst, and tell someone that you love them without hope of reciprocation or fear of reprisal. Because now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Rev. Christopher K. Stark
Niles First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The full Lenten Devotional Booklet can be downloaded by clicking HERE.