No Greater Love Than This: Ash Wed in a Congregation Awaiting Re-development

John 15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

This congregation is in a very specific moment, for which Valentine’s on Ash Wednesday is the perfect weird combination. In re-development, you are invited to lovingly embrace the death that leads to resurrection. Maybe it will be the death of things “we’ve always done this way” or death of expectations for the staff’s time, or the death of your control over the building or death of an unconscious hope that things will somehow return to when this church was in its “glory days”. Any of these could feel like a loss, and judging by how committed this core group of people are, it could also feel like a death of part of who you are. But it is not defeat; it is love. It is plunging into the waters of baptism in order to be born again, drowning the old self so the new might emerge. By the power of God’s limitless, unconditional love, death is the beginning of resurrection.

Jesus invites us to abide in him as he abides in the Father. How did that go? Well, Jesus submitted himself so thoroughly to the will of the Father – loving us even in our sin– that he died. The Father endured the heartbreak of losing a child, so that we would know definitively: we are all God’s beloved children always and forever.

What does it look like for faithful church members, of a certain demographic, to abide in Christ as he abides in God? Can you live into Christ’s body, emptied of himself for the sake of others’ resurrection? Can you live in God’s heartbreak over God’s only child for the same unconditional love? “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And it is clear in re-development that we’re not just talking about “friends” as those you are already close to, but those you will choose to love although they have no claim of family loyalty over you. It is always a loss, a sacrifice, to put someone else’s needs first. But for “friends” who are not even related or perhaps similar to you in any way? That requires deeper sacrifice, more akin to death of our will.

I’m not sure any of us can actually muster up that love. Maybe for our children or parents or beloved spouse or dearest friend. But for the “friends” we haven’t met yet? I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it. But Jesus does. God the Father/Creator does. No one has greater love than Jesus has shown, in dying by human hands, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, or God in bringing a child into the world who would do so. Their acts of love, facing death for love of us, expose the complete injustice at the core of our beings. Yet once it is exposed to the light and air, our sin can be cleaned out and begin to heal. It is nearly unfathomable, this love; it is shown by facing death. So if Hope is to attempt this new birth, the resurrection of re-development, you will need to abide completely in Christ. Clothe yourselves in Christ, live “hidden” in him, embody “God with us.” Then you stand a chance, of death revealing the greatest love of all.

 

Author: LAMPomrenke

Wordsmith. Cultivator of family memories. Lutheran pastor.

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