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Forty days later

By Scott Baker

On Thursday, May 13, Christians around the world will celebrate the feast of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the 40th day after the resurrection and is attested to in the New Testament on several occasions. My brother, who lives in Europe, reminded me last week that in a number of European countries it is indeed a Holiday. For Christians, it is one of the High Holy days of the liturgical calendar. We commemorate the theological notion that Christ’s human body was taken up into the Holy Trinity, thus making humanity a part of the Trinity itself — something that had never before existed. Quite a lofty notion if one sets one’s mind to thinking about it.

In the weeks following the resurrection, and leading up to the ascension, Christians gather to worship Sunday in and Sunday out, and one of the common threads that runs throughout the bible lessons appointed to be read and heard is the theme of love. According to the Greek language there are four distinct kinds of love. However, the love to which Christians are called to show is Agape love. Up until Christianity, this word in Greek literature was reserved for the gods. The thinking being that, human beings were simply not capable of such a lofty activity. Agape love is defined as selfless love; a love that always seeks the well-being of the other with little, if any thought, of oneself. In fact, saint Paul spills no small amount of ink trying to describe this type of love in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the church in Corinth — a group of Christians who were failing miserably at it. I think the reason why Christians hear so many bible lessons on love leading up to the feast of the ascension is precisely because we need to be reminded how we are to conduct ourselves until Jesus’ promised return.

We all know one of the most famous of bible verses, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A life-task worthy of all our effort if ever there was one. However, over the past few years, I have been stunned by the number of self-identified Christians who have not only being far from loving but have shown out right hatred toward fellow human beings. Unfortunately, from my sideline perspective, these demonstrations seemed to be fueled by ideological and political motivations — on either side of the spectrum. I was saddened by the all-too-common occurrences of such displays. I think this Eastertide affords us a renewed opportunity to claim once again the core value of agape love. We are called to be a loving people because by doing so, we share the love of God and bring others into that love. After all, that is the aim and goal of Christianity — to bring all to the love of God in Christ. Yet it is hard work, but a holy work. In the baptismal vows in the Episcopal Church, whenever the one wishing to be baptized recites their vows, the response is “I will, with God’s help.” And that’s that crux of the matter. We affirm at the beginning of our Christian journeys that we can’t do it alone — we need, no, we utterly depend on, God’s help to carry out God’s mission of love. Fred Rogers once wrote, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring, it is an active noun like ‘struggle.’” I pray that God is with us in the struggle to be the most loving people we can be.