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Every now and then, a story in the New York Times helps capture the tenor of our times and the world we live in. That happened yesterday, and the article really helps put our world in perspective.
It was about exclusive new perks that some cruise ships and theme parks are offering for some well-heeled vacationers.
The article focused on a new ship just launched by Norwegian Cruise Line, called the Escape. Within the Escape is a private area called the Haven, with its own restaurants, swimming pools, spas and entertainment. Among other things, you gain admittance to the best seats at the ships theater by flashing your membership card, your gold room key. It’s so carefully managed that most people on the ship don’t even realize it exists. If you want to, you can spend your whole vacation there and avoid almost anyone else on the ship.
This doesn’t come cheap, starting at around ten thousand dollars for a week.
But it says something about our economy today that there is a thriving market for this sort of thing. The Times article mentioned a number of other places that are offering similar exclusive perks, like Disney World and Sea World—catering to that 1 percent who can afford it and who want to feel like they are members of an exclusive club.
As American Express likes to say: “Membership has its privileges.”
But: contrast that with what Christ tells his apostles in today’s gospel. You don’t need a gold card, or a special password, or an extravagant bank account to belong to Christ.
“This is how all know you are my disciples,” he tells them “If you have love for one another.”
The one thing that will distinguish his followers, he tells them, is something beyond price.
You can’t box it or buy it or bottle it.
It is love.
That is the membership card, the identifying characteristic, for the most important club on earth.”
A song we used to sing when I was in grade school said, They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love…”
It’s worth asking ourselves this Sunday: Do they? Does the world recognize us as Christians because of the way we love?
In a variation of an old question: if we were ever put on trial for being a Christian, would the evidence of our guilt be our love?
When we walk out those doors on Sunday, do we live the gospel on Monday? Do we love one another, as Christ commanded us? Do we convey love for one another in the bank, in the checkout line, on the subway platform, in the office cubicle at work?
Do people look at us and say, “This is someone who loves”…?
Do they say: “This is someone who shows compassion”…?
“This is someone who shows mercy…who loves, like Jesus did, unconditionally”…?
Speaking for myself, far too often, the answer is no.
Christ’s commandment in this Sunday’s gospel should serve as a wake up call. In these first weeks after Easter, we are being called to do more than sing Alleluias and enjoy the flowers on the altar.
We are being called to embrace our membership in the most meaningful and life-changing club on earth. We are being challenged to live as followers of the one who gave his life for us.
We are being challenged to love. This is how we are defined.
It isn’t easy. Because loving as Christ did also means bearing a cross.
In Egypt, people recognize Christians not just by their love but, literally, by the cross they bear. Coptic Christians when they are baptized receive a tattoo on their wrists—a small cross they carry for the rest of their lives. A Coptic priest remarked recently that it’s interesting to note that as you grow, and grow older, your cross stretches with your skin. Your cross gets bigger.
So often, that is the way it is with life, isn’t it? Our challenges become more difficult. Our burdens become heavier.
The cross grows.
To love as Christ did, and to carry a cross, entails sacrifice. It means to go against the will of the world, and the aspirations of the world.
We do it in small but significant ways, like making time for Mass on Sunday when most people would rather be at the beach or the golf course.
It means taking a stand in the public square against policies and politicians who denigrate life, or punish the poor, or belittle religious liberty.
Very often, it also means loving those who are unlovable. It means praying for those who persecute you. It means stepping away from the water cooler when the gossip gets juicy, or turning off the computer when the comments on Facebook become cruel. Or stepping up defend someone under attack.
When people ask, “What would Jesus do?,” I don’t think he’d be leaving snarky comments on social media.
Christ’s new commandment can be one of the most difficult—but we can never forget that it marks us, as surely as the crosses on the arms of Coptic Christians. The way we live, and the way we love, announces to the world our membership in the Body of Christ.
And yes, membership has its privileges. It means living worthily so we can receive the Eucharist this morning. And it means living in a way that is loving—a way that, by the grace of God, can help us attain eternal life.
When you consider all that, isn’t it worth it? It doesn’t cost thousands of dollars. It doesn’t require taking out a second mortgage or flashing a membership card.
Let the world know to whom we belong.
Let them know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line website