Our service of Holy Communion begins in the same way every
week. After the singing of the ‘Introit’ hymn, the priest says the Lord’s
Prayer by himself, and the Collect for Purity, and then he does one of
two things. Either he recites the Ten Commandments (which is usually done
in Advent and Lent), or he recites the two ‘Great Commandments’ which begin
on the bottom of page 69. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy
heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.
. . . thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” On these two commandments
— love God with all your being, and love your neighbour as much as you
love yourself —“Hang all the law and the prophets.” That is to say, the
whole of the religion of the Old Testament, everything that God taught
his people through Moses, and through the Prophets (such as Isaiah and
Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and Malachi) is summed up in those two commandments:
love God; love your neighbour.
I believe that it is a good thing that as we begin to worship God each
Sunday, we are reminded of the fact that love is the very foundation of
our religion, and that love is the object of our religion. That is the
very reason why we are here: because of the love of God; because of the
love in our hearts; and because we want an increase of that love. Now,
you would think that there should be no reason to say such a thing, that
love is the foundation and the object of religion, and I wish it were not
necessary, but the truth is that throughout history, and throughout the
world, religion has as often been the cause of hatred and violence as of
love. Think of the hundreds of battles recorded in the Old Testament, of
the Crusades and Holy Wars of the Middle Ages, of the violence and terrorism
going on in Ireland and England today, and you will know that love has
not always been the most important thing for religious people. Even in
our own country and province of New Brunswick there is a history of mistrust
and jealousy between Christian denominations — between Roman Catholic and
Protestant, between Anglicans and Pentecostals. All this is despite the
fact that Jesus said “Love your enemies,” and St. John asks “How can you
say that you love God whom you cannot see when you hate your brother whom
you can see.” (1 John 4.20) Yes, we need to be reminded what we are about
as religious people, as serious Christians.
How, then, does this love manifest itself? You will notice that in the
same passage in which Jesus says “Love God, Love your neighbour,” he also
says, “The Lord our God is one God.” Love manifests itself in oneness,
in unity, in togetherness. So, if our religion is based on love, and consists
of loving, then that which unifies, that which brings us into what St.
Paul calls the “unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4.3)
is the fulfillment of our religion.
I think of the wonderful co-operation that exists in this parish: of
the vestry meetings and corporation meetings, of everyone doing their part
to clean the churches and the halls, of the dedicated Sunday School teachers
and Wardens. I think of the way that members of our parish rally around
those who are sick, and those who mourn the loss of a loved one, and around
the elderly shut-ins. I think of so many of you coming together each week
for Bible Study, and I thank God for the manifestation of love, of the
unity and co-operation of which true religion consists, that exists in
I also see how many of you are serious about your family life, concerned
about the education of your children, about your hus-band’s or wife’s welfare.
I see you out in the world, engaged in what cannot be called “religious
activities” — in business, in teaching school, in politics. In all these
ways you struggle to bring the love of God into reality from day to day,
and I tell you, that is true religion —manifesting the love of God, the
unity which God is, within the sphere of our Church community, in your
families, and in the community at large.
There is a lot of talk these days about who is a real Christian, and
who is not, about who is “saved” and who is not. Various churches, various
preachers set up criteria to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” They
will ask you: Do you speak in tongues? Have you had a “conversion experience?”
Have you got the Holy Ghost? All of these criteria tend to divide, tend
to put up barriers and contribute to pride and bigotry. But we know that
true religion, religion founded upon love, unifies, brings people together.
The only criterion I find in the Bible to discern true believers from false
is the litmus test of love. St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 12 and 13)
that there are many gifts, but the same Spirit, and that we should seek
the higher gifts, and that the highest gift is love.
Do you want to know if you are saved? Do you want to know if you are
going to be saved? Then ask yourself if you are a loving person. Ask yourself
if you do whatever you can to bring unity and co-operation to birth within
our parish, in your family, in your community. If you seek this unity,
then you are moved by God. “God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth
in God, and God in him” (1 John 4.16).
Our service of Holy Communion, which the hymn writer calls our “sweet
feast of love divine,” is our weekly reminder of the love which Jesus Christ
had for God and for his neighbour. “Greater love hath no man than this,
that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15.13) His body was broken,
his blood shed, out of obedience to God the Father, out of devotion to
his fellow man. And this service is not an ordinary reminder, because it
is literally what inspires us to greater love, for God and for one another.
It gives us the strength to be the Christians we should be. Our service
begins with a reminder of what the service is about, what true religion
is about, and what our lives are about. And it ends with the blessing:
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds in the knowledge and love of God. . . It ends with a reminder of
what we can have, that is to say, peace and contentment, if only we will
practice that love which is the essence of our religion, a peace and contentment
of which we taste in this life when we are loving people, and which will
be fulfilled and completed in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another
even as I have loved you.” (John 13.34) Brothers and sisters in Christ,
let us make love our aim.