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Perhaps Valentine’s Day last year was about the last community celebration unaffected by the pandemic. A few weeks later, as Mothering Sunday approached, everything was locked down. The last festival of the old ‘normal’ was the festival most people associate with love.
So here we are, in 2021, once again on Valentine’s Day. Love will still be celebrated – the romantic love we think of today – but the way we keep it will be different. Once again we are reminded of the cost and losses of COVID. No meals out; households unable to mix;
gift shops closed.
Yet love remains.
Love that we treasure all the more because the trappings have gone and each of us knows that being loved, and expressing love, has mattered a lot during the dark days of the past year. Christians know that love sits at the heart of faith.
In the Diocese of York we are being encouraged by our Archbishop to focus on what it means to ‘live Christ’s story’. I guess there’s a distinction here between believing and doing.
Christians aren’t called to believe in Jesus and stop there. We are called into faith to be lit by the love of God. To live in our life, the kind of life which Jesus led. And time and again the Gospels tell us that this life is about love. Love strong as death; love fierce as the grave.
One of the ways that this love gained life, was in a thirst for justice. Jesus couldn’t abide the hypocrisy he saw around him, especially when committed by religious leaders. When the people who should have known better couldn’t be bothered. When the innocent suffered and those already oppressed suffered even more.
In his teaching about the Kingdom of God Jesus told people that life didn’t need to be this way. Together with God we can seek that Kingdom and begin to live in the here and now a love which promises perfect freedom. If we live Christ’s story we can’t settle for the world as it is.
Today is not only Valentine’s Day but also Racial Justice Sunday. The coincidence of these days serves to remind us that love and justice belong together. If we love our neighbour we cannot ignore prejudice, hatred and injury. If we want to live in the Kingdom of God then things have to change in our society. We need more education to pull down walls of ignorance; to challenge the casual discrimination that passes as ‘harmless’ comments.
How can we live Christ’s story if we don’t address the prejudice in our own hearts and in the voices of those around us? There can be no true love without justice.
Sadly, I think the words of the Home Secretary last week will have been welcomed by those who see Black Lives Matter as an extremist movement or simply a passing fad. All I can say, as a woman who grew up through the 1970s and 80s, is that discrimination diminishes people. Whether its sexism, racism or homophobia, groups of people treated differently is a lived reality for many, many people in our world. And it is not good; not loving; not just.
Time and again in the Gospels Jesus stands with those his disciples would rather he avoid.
A woman of bad reputation alone at a well; the hated tax collectors; lepers and lunatics;
a foreign military officer seeking help for a servant – and a foreign woman asking the same for her daughter. When these people draw near to Jesus through love there is always a place for them. Always room at the table and often an affirmation of their faith and openness.
Do we want to live this story?
On Wednesday we enter Lent and usually we put ashes on our heads. Perhaps this year we should think about what those ashes represent. What do we really need to give up – to reduce to ashes something that stands in the way of living Christ’s story? Forget the chocolate, booze or luxury we might forgo. Dig a little deeper. What’s stopping us becoming more Christ-like, loving and just? Lent offers us a moment to walk with Jesus and ask that question. How is God asking us to grow?
This doesn’t sound an easy path to take.
One of the things our faith offers is a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is like and who Jesus is. In our Gospel we shared with a handful of disciples that vision of Jesus so bright and so dazzling that there are hardly words to describe it. We use the word ‘transfiguration’. A moment when the disciples saw Jesus in his full glory – a vivid reality of how God’s love and justice go beyond our imagination. And Paul in Corinthians says that this outward brightness can be an inner experience for those who know Jesus Christ.
Love, justice, transfiguration.
They are all celebrated this Sunday – and serve to remind us of the God whose love won’t leave us as we are. A God who calls us to ‘live Christ’s story’ and work together for that Kingdom where love is made perfect.
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