1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith– being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
“Although you have not seen him, you love him.”
This line in St Peter’s letter really struck me this week because it seems both dissonant and familiar. We love one we cannot see, have never seen, at least not in the way Peter had “seen” him.
It feels dissonant because of the juxtaposition of intimacy and love with the reality of having never encountered the object of love in person. And yet it also feels familiar because we all have people we love, that in our current circumstances, we cannot see or be with. And, of course, almost all of us carry love for someone who has died and passed into God’s care.
I think it’s easy to understand our love for those who are not physically present with us. That kind of love is built on the foundations of intimacy once shared. Once, there was a time, when we were together. So even if we are separated now, we can dip into the reservoir of our time together to sustain us while we endure their absence.
But our love of Jesus isn’t built on our long association or our past intimacy with Him. St Peter was right when he wrote that we have not, like he did, spend time with Jesus, sit near him, eat with him, or hang on his words.
But I think Peter may be a little bit wrong too, because even though we did not Peter’s experience of closeness with Jesus, I believe we have been with him, and he has been with us more closely perhaps than anyone else ever has.
We encounter Jesus in the fellowship of the church, in the needs of the suffering, in the kind acts of a stranger, and in the compassion of a caregiver. And even, I think, in the love of those closest to us.
Because if love is a gift from God, and all the love in the world is a reflection of that divine love for the good creation, than even the deepest loves we have known are, in some mysterious way, a portion of the love Christ carries for each of us.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says “”This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
We are now in a time of trial, such as Peter wrote about. Our impulse to debase ourselves with selfishness is a sore temptation, but we must resist it. To love as Jesus loves is to sacrifice our self-concern so that our concern for the whole community, God’s created community, God’s created people, might live. Our call to be Christ’s continuing love in the world is needed now, perhaps as much as it’s ever been needed in our lifetimes.
Those who are absent, whether because of their isolation or because of death, will be present to us again. We will know our former intimacies and we will experience their love and the love of God in such ways that we may not now even be able to imagine. For as Peter says, we are receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
Thanks be to God.