On one hand, that sounds so simple, so reassuringly simple. It’s simple enough to have the ring of truth. Here’s a religion that boils down to one great simple thing, and it’s a thing that our hearts immediately recognize as what they want… what they really want, what they’ve always wanted and always will. Just to love and be loved. Whatever lists of rules and commandments may follow, whatever philosophical principles and rules of life, all of it boils down to this very simple and very beautiful core. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
On the other hand, the more you think about that beautiful, reassuringly simple commandment, the more you realize it is by far the most strict and rigorous and unachievable goal that humanity has ever tried and failed to live out. No list of rules and commandments could ever be as demanding as this. What if Jesus had said He demanded that all of His disciples climb Mt. Everest? Well, maybe I’m deluded but I think if I dedicated my life to it I’d still have at least a shot of making that happen. At least a remote chance of success. Or if He’d said every disciple must read every book in some big library. I’d feel like, well, let’s get started, maybe I can. But to really think about how He loved… and be told to love the same…
There’s a Greek myth about a king named Sisyphus. He was conniving and proud, and it led to a punishing fate. His fate was to push a boulder to the top of a hill… but every time he got near the top, the boulder would roll back down and he would have to start over. And over. And over. For eternity. You might hear something called a “Sisyphean task” in reference to this.
Is being a disciple of Jesus like that? Is it taking on a task that we can never, never actually complete?
In a way, I’d say yes it is, at least as far as this life is concerned. But I don’t think that’s a punishment. In fact, the greatest goals in life are all unachievable. Are you trying to be a good spouse? How good? Are you satisfied with being an okay spouse, or do you want to be the best spouse you possibly can? Are you trying to be a good friend? How good? Are you satisfied with being an okay friend, or do you want to be the best friend you possibly can? Are you trying to be a good parent? A good son or daughter? How good?
Or even in other endeavors, there are things where we strive for something we know we’ll never progress to the point that we are completely satisfied. It could be deer hunting or volleyball or crosswords. Farming or running or foreign languages. The things we really love are the very things where we know we’ll never just stop and say, “that’s good enough.” Shaun White will never say “I’m good enough at snowboarding.” But that doesn’t mean he’s doomed to endless frustration and misery. He’s like Sisyphus… if Sisyphus really, really enjoyed and loved pushing boulders. If every night he went to bed thinking “well, didn’t quite make it all the way today, but I can’t wait to shoulder up to that boulder tomorrow, it’s going to be great and I’ll give it my best.”
To be a disciple of Jesus is to take on a goal that we will never achieve in this life. But that isn’t an experience of misery and frustration. Our hearts rejoice in it because we were made for this struggle, made for this fight. I didn’t love like Jesus yesterday. But I’m grateful for the chance to try again today. Even though I already know I’m not going to love like Jesus today. I’m looking forward to trying again tomorrow.
He gave Himself completely. With nothing held back, with no selfish streak, with no resentment or grudge. He made no passive aggressive comment; He didn’t even think one. He had no judgment on the people who hurt Him except to pray that they would be eternally happy in Heaven with Him. He gave everything, all of Himself, poured Himself out until the chalice was empty because that’s how He loved.
The Eucharist is that love pouring into our lives today. It is a total self-gift, so much so that it is truly Him. There is nothing held back. There is nothing of Him missing from this gift. For Christians who live in freedom like ours, it costs us nothing. But when you receive the Eucharist, don’t think about what it costs you. Think about what it cost Him.
This is First Communion weekend in our parish, what an amazing and joyful celebration! And it’s so important for all of us to have this reminder. We see this children receiving for the first time and we remember what an amazing moment it really is.
I did some thumbnail estimates and for a ballpark figure I think I will be receiving the Eucharist for something like the 2500th time in a few minutes. Some of you maybe double that or close. That presents a challenge. There’s no reason, philosophically, that something should be less amazing and miraculous just because it happens every day. But the way we humans are wired, when we experience a miracle daily or weekly, it’s easy to forget it’s a miracle.
It is, in fact, the greatest miracle in the world. And just because He does it every time we gather in His name and call down the Holy Spirit on bread and wine, just because He offers it constantly, free, always, that doesn’t make the miracle less amazing… but more.
That’s just how He loves. Our First Communion or our 4316th Communion, the gift is total and the miracle is amazing. He calls us, having received this gift, to go out and share it with the world, to be the Body of Christ that we receive, to love like He loves. We will never go to bed knowing that we’ve fully succeeded in that, not one day of our entire lives. But we will rejoice each morning, however many mornings we get, to try again.