Revelations of Divine Love
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 14, 2020
When we read today's Gospel what first hits us is its seeming negativity. Why is it that Jesus tells us we must hate mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, and children? Who can do this?
If we look into the grammatical construction and where it appears in other scriptural passages, then we see that "hate" does not mean hate at all. It means "to love less than." So, we are asked by Christ to love God above all.
Still, it seems a little harsh, like we are being forced to love God more than anything whether we like it not. What kind of love is that? Can love be forced on us? I don't think it would be love at all if it were not freely and voluntarily given and embraced. Another thing, would God cease to love us if we did not give into his demand to love him best? I think the answers are clear. God, being love, does not ever become not-love. We may not always be friends of God, but he is always a friend to us.
I began to search for a different approach and I ran into the 14th century anonymous mystic known as Julian of Norwich. Among all the interesting things we know about her life here is one that might interest you. Julian of Norwich was the very first woman to write a book in the English language. And it is a good one.
The name of that book is REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE and it lives up to its name. In the midst of the difficulties of life in the 14th century, including the Black Plague that is believed to have killed her husband and perhaps one of her children, and in the midst of her own personal suffering from illness, she was granted visions. All of them led her to develop a theology quite unlike anything she had been taught in church: namely, that God is not angry or vengeful.
In these visions she saw and experienced the radical intensity of God's love. She saw the Lord's suffering and knew it was for her and for all things. All her visions circled around these three points: God is One in Trinity, everything is in God and God is in everything and, finally, God transcends and encloses all he has made. Although she may have not known much about the Christian East, she came to the same theological conclusions as did the Eastern Fathers through personal mystical experience, much like St. Paul himself.
In God's fullness we all share, not only us, but all human beings, all creatures great and small, even the very minerals of the earth, the wind, the rain, the sun, the seas, the mountains, everything. And even the terrible suffering we see around us is in his fullness, for he looks with great compassion even on the little sparrow that falls from its nest and embraces it. Nothing and no one dies or suffers apart from God's limitless love.
The point I wish to make is this: if we knew God, really knew him, we would love nothing more than him and love everything less than him. And the love that overflows from him would then overflow from us to everything great and small. If we come to know him, we become like him. We do not cease to love all things, we become love. We no longer look at God from a distance, in fear, but up close and in wonder.
I, too, was not taught these things as I grew up. I heard fire and brimstone and the blaring trumpets of the great and last day. With blood in the streets and locusts in the sky and all that other apocalyptic stuff. I was taught that on that day every knee would bow out of fear of judgment at the arrival of an offended and very angry Lord. I no longer believe that.
I believe that what will be revealed on the great and last day will be an overwhelming and even frightening Revelation of Divine Love. And we will bow out of the kind of fear that is caused by wonder. And then we will hear the voice of God echo in our hearts and minds as it did for Julian as she lay in terrible suffering, “All things shall be well.”