Sr. Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS
The Gospel readings for the eight Sundays of Easter are an awe-inspiring movement from Jesus to us. The first three Sundays focus on the risen Christ and proclaim his appearances to the disciples. The Fourth Sunday of Easter reassures us that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will always remain with us and care for us.
However, when we come to the last three Sundays before Pentecost, there is a shift in time, place and person. Instead of encountering the risen Christ, these Sundays move to Jesus’s farewell discourse to the disciples at the Last Supper, and shift in person from Jesus to us, preparing us for Pentecost Sunday and the descent of the Holy Spirit. These Sundays challenge us to take up Jesus’ saving, loving mission as his faithful disciples.
This Sunday’s Gospel begins with Jesus stating “If you love me … ” If implies a free choice. Jesus does not force us to love him or his Father. We choose to love God and each other because that love establishes a unique relationship opening us to the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us. It is a relationship that promises us a share in the same risen life that Jesus has been given by his Father and that binds us to God and each other in a marvelously intimate way.
So, while if implies a choice, why would we not make the choice to love God and each other? The benefits—especially the promise of eternal life—far outweigh the cost! The more we grow in our love for God and each other, the easier it becomes to keep God’s commandments and be faithful to God’s will. Jesus’ love for us promises that he will not leave us orphans and so we can be confident to whom we belong. We can be confident of the loving relationship that Jesus extends to us. We can be confident that our love draws us deeper and deeper into the mystery of God’s life and love that is so freely and lavishly given to us.
At the Last Supper, knowing full well the ordeal of suffering that he would soon undergo, Jesus’ heart was turned to his disciples: instructing them, offering them hope, loving them with all his very self could give. Yet, freely choosing to love God and others can have a cost. The cost to Jesus was to be nailed to a cross. The cost to us is to be nailed to the Gospel, living the kind of love that Jesus showed us in his life and ministry. Let us love one another as Jesus loves us: totally, freely, life-giving. If we love God and others? How can we not?
Sr. Joyce Ann Zimmerman, C.PP.S. is the director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Dayton, Ohio.