Love renews. That is the basic message of the readings for today’s liturgy.
In the reading from the book of Revelation, a vision is presented of a new heaven and earth with no more suffering or death. Every tear will be wiped away and God will dwell with God’s people. Then, Jerusalem will be like a beautiful bride, adorned in beautiful clothing for her husband.
These images of the human community as akin to the rejoicing that a bride and groom have in one another, or a world free of all pain and mourning, may seem far afield from our own human communities. We can look to our current political climate and see conflict, suffering, violence and even death. For example, there are wars being waged all around the world, gang violence in places far and near, yet human beings have not figured out how to end war and bring peace permanently. In perhaps much smaller ways, there can also be sadness or pain in our cities, families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. I can think of friends who have ill parents, or who have recently lost a loved one who has passed away, or families or friendships where rifts divide people from one another—sometimes even when those friends or family have the best of intentions, things can go awry.
So we could be tempted to read the passage from Revelation as merely a fantasy about some future that will only take place at some apocalyptic moment. But not now. Alternatively, we could read it strictly as a historical text, in which case we might want to look to how the author was discussing Roman rule and the threat that the Roman emperor posed in a time of persecution of Christians. Of course, this is true, but it doesn’t tell us much about why we continue to read and reflect on this passage today.
The Gospel, though, gives us a clue as to how we can renew our communities, families, and friendships, so that God’s glory will be seen in them. And Jesus’ answer is very, very simple: he tells his friends to love one another.
God’s glory isn’t so much seen in stars falling from the sky, plagues descending on mankind, fires burning up evil emperors, or any of the kind of drama that makes up so much of the book of Revelation, or many popular movies. Instead, the great drama of the Christian story is the glory of love.
The thing is, the glory of love is often really quiet. Think of how many acts of love are taking place all around the world as you read this. Most of them won’t ever make the headlines of a newspaper. Maybe it is a member of your parish who is patiently taking care of her ill husband suffering from dementia, because of the love that she and her husband have had after 50 or more years of marriage. Maybe it is the mom who is comforting her fussy toddler on the playground, after she has skinned her knee running, or the college friends about to graduate who are embracing one another, or taking photos in order to cling to that one last time at a favorite location on campus. Maybe it is the person leaving a jug of water for an immigrant crossing into the border, or the nurse holding the hand of a patient who is ill and sick and tired of being in a hospital bed with pneumonia. Maybe it is the very small thing you do for a friend or a family member that you never tell them about, but you do it because you know it will help them to be happy, or at least happier.
Love often looks so small, but Small is also what God looked like when God came to dwell among people: Jesus came into the world a baby, and before he left it, he spent time washing people’s dirty feet and then feeding them a good meal.
In God’s eyes, we look like a beautiful bride does to her prospective husband, a loving husband who can’t see that his wife could stand to lose an extra five pounds or that her hair is out of place, or that something is wrong with the wedding dress. All he sees is her beauty, and the rest falls away.
God sees only beauty in other people and in ourselves, and God invites us also to look at other people with God’s eyes and not our own: to look for what is beautiful in other people, the way a husband might gaze with love on his beloved one.
It’s this look of love that makes a new world, and very small acts of love that cumulatively add up to a new Jerusalem. Imagine if we went through each day and just thought, hour by hour: what are the acts of love that I can do today, for the people I meet only today, to make their lives better? What one act of love can I do now? And then just do it again, and again and again. Love is quiet. Love is simple. Love renews. Love renews our world, and it renews we who love, too.