A black and white photograph of Claude and I, eleven years younger, reminds me of the unfettered joy of our wedding day. The image is iconic in our family, a picture of love.
This is what love looks like to many of us – cheek to cheek grins, hands clasped together, embraces that linger and leave a perfumed presence on your sweater. Love blushes with a pinkish hue or pulsates with streaks of bright red. Love is warm as a down duvet and smells like hot chocolate. Love sounds like a sultry songstress, wooing us with smooth jazz melodies by candlelight.
But John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, gives us a different interpretation of love. As one who rested his head on the chest of Jesus, who knew the tender proximity of love, he offers a different sketch.
“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His only son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
John speaks of ‘the atoning sacrifice’ and it is easy to get static from the heavy terminology – we might miss hearing the words to the song. John was not waxing theological here. John was telling us what he saw when love was in motion. When he tells us that love is an‘atoning sacrifice,’ he does so with tears streaming down his face. As he writes he can almost feel the dust caught in his throat, as it was that day when love shuffled by in limping magnificence.
We are far from that dusty road to Golgotha and need to remember what it looks like, what John saw as a definitive portrait of love.
Jesus was condemned.
He was given a cross to carry.
His mother watches.
Simon is recruited to help him carry the heft of the cross.
A woman steps forward to wipe the sweat and dirt from his face.
He falls again.
The women, his friends, weep as he moves slowly by them.
He falls a third time under the weight of the cross.
He is stripped.
He is nailed to the cross.
This is love.
This is the iconic picture of love that John wants to bring into focus for us. God’s love looks like this… an atoning sacrifice.
Bloodied, bruised, broken.
John shows us that love, in full bloom, is not an air brushed photograph. Love is suffering for the other, taking the blows, carrying the full weight of it like a cumbersome cross, absorbing the pain and confronting the darkness of death.
Sometimes love feels like this for me. It is laboring to forgive, moving slowly toward reconciliation, falling and doing it imperfectly. But there are others there to help me as I endeavor to love – to shoulder love’s weight with me, comfort me and be present with me. I may fail more than once, but I continue to push to my feet and try again – because love is like that. Sometimes I feel stripped, humiliated and vulnerable as I try to embody love. I feel nailed, even crucified.
John tells me that this is what love really looks like – that weakness that confounds (and confronts) the wise. Love is hard-hitting, demanding and might include daily dying. But this is the magnificence of love.
He continues, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” The implication is that we ought to love each other in the same way.
This is a picture of love. This is a charge to love, likewise.
NOTE: The images come from this book – Stations of the Cross: The Story of God’s Compassion by Rev. T. Ronald Haney, illustrations by Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath.
(This was first posted on SheLoves Magazine about 2 years ago, but it’s just as true today!)
This is my contribution to Emily Wierenga’s Imperfect Prose on the theme of LOVE.