Jesus said to Peter, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’
Yesterday we remembered St Stephen: the first Christian martyr, so called. Stoned to death as he witnessed to the Light of the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.
Tomorrow we remember the Holy Innocents: the children massacred by Herod;
in a sense, themselves martyrs also. witnessing to the reality of the darkness of the World.
and in between, St John.
It is tempting to think that John 'gets off lightly.' He suffers no bloody death like Stephen, and, of course, it is Peter who asks Jesus of his fate and he too dies a martyr”s death. Although we are not entirely sure when or how, it was probably under Nero.
it is almost as if Jesus is saying to him – 'If I choose to give him an easy time and you a hard time - So What?' For it is God who chooses how and through whom he will work in the world. When we put ourselves at his disposal for his glory we may well wonder mightily at his ends – the glory of divine purpose – but his means are often less than congenial too us. Sometimes obedience to God draws us into intense personal loss and cost.
Thus, it would be easy to say that John has it easy: the one apostle to die in his bed.
However, if we think that, then we miss something so vital to Chrsitian faith that we might be said to have totally missed what it is all about.
For whether we die by the sword, or die in our beds, the Christian life is always one of costly love. In fact, one might say that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was given the hardest path of all to follow, the path of year after year after year of Love.
In the fourth century something literally Vital went out of Christian faith: It was normalised. It was made part of respectable society. It transitioned from a few being Christians to a , Christianity that was made compulsory. If you like, it became part of the warp and weft of the World: taught in Schools, attendance at worship expected of all decent citizens. No one was martyred any more, as if the Light had finally vanquished the darkness – but as we know – 1600 years later that wasn’t so.
The Life that so challenged the World that one had either to repent and follow Christ or persecute those who did, the sharp dividning line between darkness and Light, was blurred.
But there were those who saw what was happening – who held out – who clung on to the fire of the Gospel. First fleeing to the desert, then collecting as communities, communities of faith, they were the fore-runners of monasteries. One title that attached to them was ‘White martyrs’: those who still believed that one could not live with a foot in both camps – darkness and light – that one had to die to the World to enter the Love of God and to become one with it.
White martyrs: witnessing to light not by dying physically , but by dying to anything the World had to offer. Dying by refusing to choose any way but the way of Love.
St John is the Apostle of Love, he is the first White martyr, the first to live out day after day, month after month, year after year until at the last his body failed him. He lived the command to Love without exception. For John there was to be no respite, no quick end to the costly walk with Jesus. His was literally in a fight to Love unto death.
Does this all sound too strong?
Surely the idea of the Apostle of Love sounds so ‘nice’, so ‘comforting’, as if John is warm and cuddly. But he is not. With his brother James he is one of the Sons of thunder. Perhaps this is why Jesus chose him to be the one who would bear costly witness without the blessed relief of a martyrs death. It was only a Son of thunder who would hold on to Love to the very end
And so we have in these days following the holiest of days:
The witness of Light – Stephen – those who cannot bear the light choose to kill him—and The witness of Darkness – the Holy Innocents,
and finally the witness of Love – costly devotion to the end
You see Love is a Nice idea. We all like the idea of Love, we all want to be loved, until we encounter God’s Love. the Love that says “I love you, take up your cross and follow me’” We all too easily say ‘I love God’ until we hear Jesus say to us: “If you Love me, keep my commandments.” We all too easily say: “I would do wanything for Love,” until Love in the flesh tears us, rends us from all we hold most dear. Love is no idea – it is FIRE-- and the way of Love is the way of fire
Love in the flesh; that is what it is all about. I speak not of love as an Idea, but Love you can touch and feel and see. “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. T2his life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us’
How is it declared? In Love – there is no other way. This is what it means to walk in the light, to bear the beams of divine Love for the world, to Love the Enemy, to Love those who hate us, to Love and to Love and to Love. This is to enter into the fiery purposes of the God of Love. John’s declaration is not a string of doctrines or ideas, it is the declaration of LIFE!
Why? ‘So that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ We Love in order to draw others into Light – the Light – the very life of God. We love to share in the life of the Divine: fellowship with God, the God who is Love. For surely our Joy will only be complete when all are drawn into the fellowship of Love: costly, fiery, awe inspiringly beautiful Love, Love in all it’s fullness. Love as revealed to us perfectly in Jesus.
Love took on flesh for our sake. He became like us for one reason and for one reason only: that we might become like him, that all may be drawn into the fellowship of Love, that all might be drawn into the life of God
4Love that commands: the voice of the Lion of Judah,
roaring out above the chaos of the World, calling us to Light,
to the witness of Love,
Love in the Personal, love in the particular, costly, overflowingly generous Love.
Whatever path He chooses for us it is a path of martyrdom – of witness – be it St Stephen or the Holy Innocents or St John. We are martyrs to Love, for Love must triumph: the darkness has not understood it, but the darkness shall never overcome it.